Jack White review – a remarkable evening with a truly unique artist

Hammersmith Apollo, London
Musician's parallel loves of Delta blues, surrealist whimsy and modernist-art subversion apparent at London gig

Jack White has been a fixture on the music landscape for so long that it's easy to forget precisely what a bizarre and idiosyncratic figure he is. It is now 17 years since the Detroit native formed the White Stripes, pursuing the fiction throughout the duo's 14-year career that their drummer, his ex-wife Meg White, was actually his sister.

Still a year shy of his 40th birthday, the prolific White has also formed two successful side bands, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, as well as running his own profoundly eccentric record company, Third Man. Its output to date has included singles by US talk-show hosts Stephen Colbert and Conan O'Brien plus White's second ex-wife, British model Karen Elson.

These impressively disparate ventures all have their roots in White's parallel loves of Delta blues, surrealist whimsy and modernist-art subversion.

Indeed, the night before this show, he played a secret midnight gig in a disused central London office basement to invited fans who were required to dress in blue medical gowns.

That publicity stunt-cum-art happening was to promote his new, second solo album, Lazaretto, but White's genius in all his many incarnations is to strip Mississippi blues down to its core essence and invest it with both visceral intensity and cerebral complexity. For all of its conceptual packaging, his music burns with a fervent purity.

He is also a fantastic showman. Backed by a febrile five-piece band and still looking like a silent-movie villain reimagined by Tim Burton, he arrives like a tornado, pirouetting and wielding his guitar like a machine gun amidst the maelstrom that introduces the yearning, frantic garage-punk of Sixteen Saltines.

White is a fantastically committed performer, hurling himself into the maw of songs like the feral instrumental High Ball Stepper with ferocious abandon. The new album's title track (it means a medical quarantine) genuinely sounds like a seizure, all fevered tics, jolts and twitches.

Improvising the entire show without a pre-planned set list, he scatters White Stripes tracks liberally throughout the evening. The cryptic poetry of Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground sits beautifully amongst its psycho-blues riffs, while Hotel Yorba still sounds the jauntiest, most flippant take on Deep South Blues imaginable.

He journeys back to the source for an eviscerating take on Blind Willie McTell's Three Women, a standout from the new album, then judders through Love Interruption, a bleak interior monologue spat over jagged riffs.

The Raconteurs were one of his less essential extra-curricular projects, but he makes the haunted country of Top Yourself sound brilliantly compelling.

White shifts into full testifying mode for a lengthy encore featuring the razor's-edge boogie-woogie of Just One Drink ("I drink water, you drink gasoline") and the wracked abandonment lament Alone in my Home.

Ending a pulsating set with the White Stripes' ubiquitous, terrace-friendly anthem Seven Nation Army is the only real predictable moment of a frequently remarkable evening in the company of a truly unique artist.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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