August 31, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 5: Showing 'em how it's done in Seattle

I was reminded that the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club, so unfortunately I can't describe our adventures with the homeless folks of Seattle. We were in Seattle for the same reason we'd been in San Francisco two days before, to see Jack White. I'm going to preface this tale by thanking any and all gods that might exist that I have people to share these experiences with, people who understand the addiction, who don't think I've gone over some sort of edge, who don't think I'm stuck in some sort of fantasy life. I mean, for crying out loud, I function rationally enough that I'm able to work a full time job and support myself. I explore other interests, I try to learn about new and different things that do not involve Jack White, so why am I sometimes made to feel that I have to explain why this man's music and ideas are so important to me? If I hadn't managed to find other people who understand and share my addiction, that would have put me 'round the bend. Having to experience things like this and the feelings that are created by it alone is what forces people into fantasy obsessions. 

So, Seattle. This sums up our two days there pretty well-- 
Photo courtesy of Sharon Harrow

Seattle won the prize for weird, man. But it was a good weird, the sort that keeps you interested and on your toes. Our evenings there had us on our toes, too, quite literally, as the Jack White roller-coaster kept on a rollin', sprained ankle and all.

Watching him these two nights was intense just as it'd been the second night in San Fran because we were unconsciously watching for signs of pain, but Jack was again full of smiles. Whether it was painkillers or pleasure there's no telling, but he seemed to be getting something out of these shows.  One thought that crossed my mind was, with all Jack's talk over the years of having to overcome struggle, could there be some part of him that was perversely enjoying this injury? He's talked of having to create struggles for himself on stage, that often his band-mates don't even know about the obstacles he creates in his own mind. He's talked of fighting his guitars and equipment (most famously demonstrated in the infamous bleeding fingers guitar solo featured in the documentary, It Might Get Loud).  Could having to overcome this painful physical limitation be fulfilling for him in a way that self-imposed or mechanical limitations can't reach? 

Whatever the case, these two shows were stellar. The second night was broadcast live and recorded from the broadcast, so I've got an audio souvenir of it. Actually, I've got audio souvenirs of three of the four shows on this trip, as both San Francisco shows were taped and shared. But the first night in Seattle, the night that contained one of the most beautiful moments I've experienced yet at one of Jack's shows, on a par with the heart-breaking You've Got Her In Your Pocket at Detroit's Fox Theater just last month, was apparently not recorded. There's no reminder of what we experienced that night beyond whatever notes I took and what my friends will be able to retain in their memories for us to talk about in months to come. And that is a damned shame. I don't know how Jack feels about recordings of his shows being shared on the internet, but these broadcasts and ROIOs are very precious to me. They're an archive of his art beyond what's pressed to vinyl, they capture the true brilliance of what he does-- His records showcase his impressive song-writing skills, but it's when he's on stage that we fans can experience the gyroscope of his brain spinning at full force. Of course nothing truly captures the breath-taking quality of actually being there with him in front of you, not even video, but audio and video recordings at least give an idea of how he's able to create an entirely different show every single night. From pulling the setlist out of his head as he goes along, to changing the arrangements of the same songs from one night to the next, to making up songs on the spot, it's through experiencing a multitude of shows, either in person or vicariously, that you come to really understand what he does.  These recordings help to enrich the appreciation of his art.  And for fans in some parts of the world, they're the only way to experience what Jack does live. So while I agree with his tour manager's nightly pre-show injunction that people keep their damned cell phones in their pockets, I'm still grateful to the few folks who slip in recording devices or sneak a bit of video (which apparently no one did in Seattle).  

It was one of those songs made up on the spot that blew us away the first night in Seattle. A little over halfway through the second set, Jack began an acoustic interlude with We're Going To Be Friends leading into Blunderbuss. He had Dominic Davis on aluminum standup bass, Fats Kaplin on mandolin, and Lillie Mae Rische on fiddle all step forward to play in a line next to him. At the end of Blunderbuss, he continued playing and began singing something that at first sounded like an old folk tune, then sounded like it might have been some obscure Bob Dylan number. We glanced at each other wondering if any of us recognized it, but none of us did. It went on for a while, this story that began with a man who did not need to be forgiven, a tale of wandering in a valley and spending time in prison, then ended with a woman who did not need to be forgiven. Through the whole thing, Jack stared calmly at the front of the stage, not looking around or up at the audience at all, seemingly completely focused on the words and melody. Dominic, Fats, and Lillie Mae smiled as they played along behind him, then towards the end drummer Daru Jones picked up a tambourine and Ikey Owens joined in softly on the keyboard and it was so incredibly lovely that I broke down and began crying. When Jack sang the final line of "She doesn't need to be forgiven" and then walked to the back of the stage to switch guitars and launch into a sludgy version of Cannon (the fifth of the night, which was incredible in its own right), I couldn't throw my fist into the air and bang my head the way I'd normally do for Cannon because I was completely overcome and wiping tears from my eyes. After the show and in line the next day, we talked about this song and tried again to wrack our brains to figure out where it was from. After a few days of this, I checked in with a reliable source and found out that it was indeed completely improvised and that, just like the rest of us, the band had not heard a note or word of it before that moment. 

There were many more standout moments from both nights-- An acoustic version of Screwdriver (most of it, at least), an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Top Yourself (it was acoustic, it was electric, it was acoustic again, it was the old version, a slow version, the new version...),  
All show photos courtesy of David James Swanson, from
...James Booker's Papa Was a Rascal (third time I've heard this from him now and I swear that, if he hadn't been born before Booker died, he might be Booker reincarnated) and the White Stripes' Little Room, which ended with him on his knees screaming into an echo mic and then whipping off a hellatious guitar solo for a song that's never contained guitar--

There was the moment before Three Women when he asked the crowd how they were doing and then turned around, crossed his legs, and leaned on the piano with a smirk on his face, just waiting it out to see how loud we could get in response.  Then a few songs later, during Steady As She Goes, he stepped behind Daru Jones on the drum platform, picked up Daru's glasses and put them on, then leaned over the drummer's shoulder until Daru noticed him and cracked up, while Jack continued playing, looking for all the world like Buddy Holly--

And for me, there was a moment at the beginning of Black Bat Licorice.  Jack had his back to the audience facing Daru when the first few notes played. I recognized the riff instantly, gave a whoop and yelled "Thank you!!"  Jack walked to the back of the stage and turned around and I could swear he looked directly at me, then made a sort of "come on" gesture.  For one thing, I wasn't completely sure he was looking at me, when he's at the back of the stage he could be looking at the person next you or behind you for all you can tell, and for another I wasn't sure what that gesture might've meant, so I just stared back and mouthed "What?" with a lift of my chin.  He gave one of his smirky smiles, I tilted my head trying to figure out what was going on, he smiled more, then stepped up to the mic and launched into a nearly perfect rendition of the song, while I sang along with every word.  Whether that moment at the beginning was meant for me or not, who the heck knows.  Right now, days later, it really doesn't matter, but right then and there it made me giddy. 

Now remember, all of this on these two nights was done by a man whose ankle looked like this after he'd sprained it just a few nights before--

At the end of the second night in Seattle, after Jack had blown our minds yet again with Death Letter, Sharon was screaming to the world in general "That is how it's done!! That is how you fucking do it!!!" And she was fucking right.

To be continued in September...


Tracemystique said...

Loved your blog. The pic you have of Jack(on his knees!) actually engaging with the crowd there in Seattle was amazing! I feel like sometimes he is just in performance mode! I wonder did you write about the Clouddead song from San Fran? I looked it up after seeing it on youtube. I shared with another audience member that we thought he was on painkillers singing about the Oakland athletics and two dogs dead!...BTW, since you have been to all of these shows you are my hero(ine?)! I would if I could and everyone thinks I am crazy with my love for fucking jack white! Can I leave a picture from San Fran when he was at OUtsidelands in a shop? It said Jack White is my spirit animal(window of SAn Franpsycho).

KaliDurga said...

Hello and thank you. I did write about the cLOUDDEAD song in the entry about the San Francisco shows, part IV of this "series". Pretty freaky to listen to the original and realize how different it was, huh? And sure, go ahead and leave a picture.

The Crow said...

I have enjoyed all your road-trip posts, but this one especially so. That last photo of Jack is album-cover worthy, girl!

KaliDurga said...

I wish that was my photo! All of the show photos were taken by a photographer hired for the tour. But yeah, that last one, which was from the end of the second night, really captured the feeling of all of these shows.

The Crow said...

PS: Nice butt on the guy holding up the tree. So taken with the last one of Jack that I forgot to mention the other one in my first comment.

KaliDurga said...

Haha! I thought the same thing, actually, especially with the shorts adding a little "push-up" action.