Is it even Glastonbury if Jack White doesn’t make an appearance somewhere? I’ve seen him duet sultrily with Alison Mosshart in the Dead Weather, he played here twice with the White Stripes and once with the Raconteurs, he’s guest-appeared on other people’s stages, and played his own eclectic solo sets to appreciative rockers. This year he turned up at the Park stage for a secret set – though, as ever, it was an open secret. By the time the soundcheck was emitting random blasts of synthesised organ in advance of his appearance – there was a statue on stage which may well have been of him, I wouldn’t be surprised – the massed crowds were so formidable that they had to close the area. Those who made it up the hill found that it was worth the trek, though. White delivered an hour of face-melting rock delirium with barely a break between songs.
When he runs on stage – blue hair, blue guitar, pale make-up – he roars straight into the fat opening notes of Taking Me Back, opener to this year’s album Fear of the Dawn. I wondered if the set would consist mostly of that record’s mildly deranged circus-rock but it encompasses killer songs from his entire career, and he has a lot of them. The next song is Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground from the White Stripes era, then it’s straight into Love Interruption, from 2012: “I want love to change my friends to enemies, show me how it’s all my fault.” The transitions are seamless, each song devolving into noise and wild guitar soloing from White before he breaks out the next huge riff. His guitar screams and crunches, the bass rattles ribcages, the drums thunder – for the first few songs the crowd seems almost stunned by the noise.
Mid-set Jack stops for just a moment to tell us that he’s about to play a song he wrote two and a half days ago (“I don’t remember the name of it”) which turns out be be a country-ish ballad about the frustration of loving someone, sung (relatively) softly over bluesy fingerpicking. But then it’s straight back into Hotel Yorba, also a White Stripes song, its fun bouncy rhythm getting the crowd yelling and jumping along. I Cut Like a Buffalo – the best Dead Weather song – comes in next with its stabby vocal and sick funky bassline. He just throws these songs out, embellishing them with an extended solo here, a wild breakdown there. When he plays songs from across his career like this, you really notice his vocal range, from shouty rock star to tremulous blues singer to southern drawl.
The crowd is with Jack White throughout, but the closing two songs send everyone into a kind of mad roiling frenzy. He breaks out the Raconteurs’ You Don’t Understand me towards the end, but it’s Steady As She Goes that properly rocks, the crowd screaming “Are you steady now” back at White at his invitation, a blistering new solo spliced into the middle. The closer is, of course, Seven Nation Army, a song that football crowds and drunk people in city centres at 3am should surely have ruined, but which is just too good. Thousands of people jump and sing along to that riff in unison and it infects the whole festival site; I hear it echoed for hours afterwards. We haven’t got many rock artists more prolific or professional.