I didn't write in much detail about my first experiences with The Dead Weather earlier this year in Memphis and Nashville. The DW shows I've attended this year have also been my first experience with Jack White and seeing the man live on stage is, shall we say, more than slightly intense. Jack is a powerhouse performer, whether behind the drum kit, out front with a guitar, or even pacing the stage with nothing in hand but a microphone. The concentrated energy just radiates from him and infects the entire audience. Something about how that energy affected me tonight compels me to want to share the experience this time, which is entirely contrary to how I felt before. Third (!) time's the charm, I guess.
Thanks to the generosity of a fellow fan, I was spared from having to camp out in line all afternoon in order to get a good spot in front of the stage. The weather forecast all week had predicted a 60% chance of thunderstorms from afternoon through evening, which would have been miserable. Instead, the clouds broke somewhat and the day became brutally hot. I would've suffered it, not gladly but willingly, if a very cool dude from the White Stripes message board hadn't posted an offer to let someone be his 'plus one' if he managed to win the early entry lottery that's open to ten fan club members, plus guest, per show. This is the second time I've had an amazing DW experience as someone's 'plus one' and, for such a seemingly little thing, it goes a long way toward restoring my oft-bruised faith in humanity.
So instead of broiling under the humid sun, I was able to relax, get to the venue a few minutes before the doors opened, and then stroll in ahead of the crowd to claim my particularly chosen spot at the front, the same spot I had for the two previous shows in Tennessee, and the spot I will aim for again come August when the DW plays Baltimore-- on the right, just between Alison and LJ, with a mostly unobstructed view of Jack's drumkit. If you happen to attend a DW show that I'm at and decide to snatch that spot from me, just know that you do so at your peril. Not long after my early entry patron and I got settled up front and the rest of the crowd began making its way in, a young kid of 12 or so popped up behind us and announced that this was his second concert ever and his first time seeing Jack White. His dad had apparently forgotten one of their tickets and was waiting out front for Mom to deliver it, but sent the boy in ahead so he could get a good spot. Of course, we immediately squeezed him up to the rail and kept an eye on him throughout the evening. It turned out to be a ball hanging out with him before and during the show, seeing his excitement and discussing music in general and the DW in particular with someone whose perspective is so fresh and unjaded.
Harlem, the opening act, were three very cute young boys who acted very casually about their set but played fairly tightly and with great energy. They provided a fun warm up and had us all raring to go for the DW. And D.C. was more than ready-- the show sold out almost immediately when tickets went on sale two months before, and many people apparently remembered that the band had kicked off their 2009 tour on almost exactly the same day in the same venue. Everyone was expecting a hell of a show.
The band seemed to sense this as soon as they hit the stage. They tore through 60 Feet Tall, and both Alison and Jack broke into big grins over the crowd response at the end of the song. From there it was right into Hang You From the Heavens, with Jack twirling his drumsticks between cymbal smashes and the audience singing word for word along with Alison. Despite Jack's insistence in recent interviews that the band's begun playing without a setlist, they pretty much followed standard formula tonight, following HYFtH with (some of this is sure to be out of order, it all becomes a blur on the drive home)--
You Just Can't Win
So Far From Your Weapon
I Cut Like a Buffalo
The Difference Between Us
Rolling In On a Burning Tire
Hustle & Cuss
Die By the Drop
Will There Be Enough Water?
Blue Blood Blues
I Can't Hear You
Treat Me Like Your Mother
Much as I adore 2009 performances of the song, I was not terribly looking forward to You Just Can't Win. For some reason I can't begin to determine, Jack's vocals during their spring 2010 shows became unaccountably... histrionic. His voice was fine, but his delivery was terribly over-dramatized. Perhaps it was having a bit of a break before this tour, perhaps it was the obvious excitement of the audience, I don't know what it was, but he was spot on tonight, singing emotionally yet with a much more relaxed manner. And having a hell of a time, apparently-- smiling repeatedly, chatting to the crowd a few times between songs (which, unfortunately, I couldn't understand a word of due to the mic at his drumkit being way too damned low in the mix).
The absolute highlight of the show was, as is often the case, Will There Be Enough Water?. The slowest moment of any Dead Weather show, it's also the most intense (there's that word again) as Jack comes from out behind the drums to strap on his guitar and share a mic with Alison as they croon the spare lyrics of the song. The solo that he launched into tonight between the second and third verse was mind-blowing. The potential for this was the reason for my determination to get the spot I had on the rail. With his pedal board directly in front of me, I had a long handful of minutes to watch the man up close. So close, in fact, that it became difficult to figure out what to look at-- the expressions on his face as he lost himself in the music, his fret hand picking out chords, the other hand switching continuously from strumming to finger-picking to bending notes with the whammy bar, or his feet in those oh-so-cool white winkle-pickers tapping the various pedals on his board. And on top of all of that going on, I found myself being repeatedly drawn into eye-contact with the honkin' huge, gleaming silver, head of the Creature of the Black Lagoon belt buckle at his waist. The damned thing was staring right at me, winking as the stage lights hit it. No wonder my mind was blown.
This is very close to the view I had. The person who filmed these was about four people to my left, also on the rail.
In all seriousness, though, as fantastic as it is to listen to Jack play, it really is amazing to watch him. Especially for someone like me who's never had any interest in playing a guitar myself, to hear the sounds he creates and, at the same time, to see, ok, here he's finger-picking, here he's hitting the whammy, that's where he hits the pedal... It's just incredibly fascinating. I've always been drawn to guitar-driven music, but he's the first musician who's made me want to understand it.
Yes, this review is heavily Jack-centric. I make no apologies for that, he's the reason I was at the show. Alison, in the few moments that I watched her, was her usual dynamic self, belting out each song and mesmerizing the crowd with her gaze, including the kid at my side who's probably getting a hell of an early, somewhat subconscious, sex-ed through this band. I can think of worse women than Alison to inspire teenaged wet-dreams. At least he won't grow up expecting his women to be submissive. And, as before in Tennessee, I didn't give LJ or Dean the attention they deserved. I heard them both clearly and appreciated the hell out of their contribution to the show but, no, I didn't watch them. I'll try to make it up to them later on in Baltimore.
During the drive home, the skies finally delivered on the predicted storms. Heat lightning glimmered through the clouds as I headed out of the city, before letting loose a deluge of rain on the highway. I was soaked on the short run from the car into the house and sat down dripping wet to write this, while thunder rumbled outside the window. Somehow, it seemed appropriate to document an aural storm while feeling the effects of a physical one. Let the weather/Weather rage.