Jack White review – a wild tightrope walk across thrash, funk and hip-hop

The Garage, London
The former White Stripes frontman twists up and melts down material old and new – and channels Roxy Music along the way

Some mischaracterise Jack White as a dad-rock revivalist in deadening thrall to tradition and craft, but this does a disservice to just how electric, wilful and weird an artist he truly is. This is a man who effected a rock revolution armed with limited musical elements, a monochromatic wardrobe and an ex-wife he pretended was his sister, and who tonight risks the ire of millennials by banning smartphones, to have the crowd’s full attention. Doing things straight has never been a part of the plan.

This explains his gonzo new album Boarding House Reach, which adds wild funk, offbeat gospel and, most unexpectedly, hip-hop to his palette and which, against fierce odds, mostly works. One of a handful of intimate gigs White is playing this week in Los Angeles, New York and London to celebrate the album’s release, tonight sees him debut a number of Boarding House Reach tunes, along with highlights from his back catalogue, adapted for his new band.

Pale enough to be wearing corpse paint and with a mop of thick black hair, he’s a Tim Burton-esque vision of a guitar hero: Edward Plectrum-hands. His soloing, of which there is plenty, is less about flash and technique, more about emotion, all sweat, spite and vinegar. He plays some of his earlier numbers completely straight – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground is archetypal White, and brought alive by the venom and savagery with which he delivers it, stinging like a fresh wound. Inevitable closer and occasional terrace chant Seven Nation Army provokes a wall-shaking mosh stampede.

Wall-shaking mosh stampede … Jack White works the crowd.
Wall-shaking mosh stampede … Jack White works the crowd. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Other older songs are twisted into unexpected new shapes: keyboardist Neal Evans couches We’re Going to Be Friends in Vince Clarke-esque synth lines, recasting it as a sweet electronic ditty; Wasting My Time is slowed to an infernal crawl, White driving its black-hearted ire to operatic heights, playing the blues as primordial metal stomp. The results are White at his wildest, melting these songs down to their essence, playing his light and dark sides to their extremes.

The new songs are without-a-net tightrope walks. Over and Over and Over’s funk-rock riff conforms to White’s trademark guitar kineticism, and the garage/hip-hop mutation of the anti-Trump broadside Corporation isn’t a million light years from early Stripes belter Hello Operator – which also gets a gleeful airing tonight. But Ice Station Zebra, a cut’n’paste of lounge groove, thrash blitzes and abstract sounds, like Art of Noise duelling Metallica, is held together only by the manic glee with which White delivers it. Even Connected By Love, perhaps the most classic of the Boarding House Reach material, is a very Roxy Music-esque vision of gospel – White’s vocal is shrill, artful, but still sincere, like Bryan Ferry’s. Nothing is quite as it seems, and he seems to relish this unsettling edge.

But even at his most trad – the unabashed classicism of Blunderbuss, say – he revitalises overused tropes, washing them clean of cliche and autopilot emoting. This ability to make the old feel new again was a large part of White’s appeal the last time he played poky London noise-pots like this, in the White Stripes’ legendary first UK shows in the summer of 2001. That his passion remains undimmed, his eccentric vision still so ornery and unpredictable, is a very fine thing indeed.

Contributor

Stevie Chick

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Jack White: Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 review – stripped back but still elusive
Stripped of his pearly king artifice, White’s new pose as a normal human being finds him every bit the painstaking craftsman in this classy compilation

Alexis Petridis

08, Sep, 2016 @2:00 PM

Article image
Jack White: Boarding House Reach review – the rulebook goes out the window
Digital effects, spoken-word, a brave attempt at rapping … after two decades of uptight indie, White has loosened his artistic shackles and seems to be having fun

Alexis Petridis

22, Mar, 2018 @3:30 PM

Article image
Jack White: Blunderbuss – review

Alexis Petridis: Jack White has always been at his best when he's at his weirdest – and that is very, very much the case here

Alexis Petridis

19, Apr, 2012 @2:29 PM

Article image
Jack White shows his stripes: 'I will never form another band'
Former White Stripes man vows to restrict himself to the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather and solo material from now on

Sean Michaels

23, Feb, 2011 @12:19 PM

Article image
Jack White: 'I knew we'd get into these places and stir things up' | Interview

The Stripes' frontman Jack White talks to Sarfraz Manzoor about President Obama, his wife's first album and doing a whole show on one note

Sarfraz Manzoor

14, Mar, 2010 @12:06 AM

Article image
Jack White; Santigold – review
Jack White's new six-piece backing band are a match for the White Stripes, while Santigold's poppier direction is still thrilling, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

28, Apr, 2012 @11:06 PM

Article image
Jack White: Blunderbuss – review
Has he ever made a bad album, asks Kitty Empire, as the former White Stripe, Raconteur and Dead Weatherman goes it alone with bruising, brilliant results

Kitty Empire

21, Apr, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Jack White review – the din lets you in

There's not much room for detail amid the shock and awe, but Jack White is as mesmerising as ever, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

06, Jul, 2014 @8:00 AM

Article image
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

Ian Gittins

03, Jul, 2014 @11:31 PM

Article image
Jack White review – an ecstatic rock’n’roll augury
Playing at the opening of the London outpost of his label Third Man, the former White Stripes frontman scintillatingly showed rock isn’t dead yet

Martin Robinson

26, Sep, 2021 @12:13 PM