August 1, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 2: From snark to pathos

Arrived in Detroit mid-morning on Monday, after stopping to sleep for an hour or two along the road from Pittsburgh.  Met Sharon outside the Fox Theater and headed down Woodward Avenue in search of Coney Dogs (Lafayette, not American) and someplace with free wi-fi.  For a change, we weren't lining up hours early for Jack's show that night because the seats we'd paid a bundle for in the pit were assigned, not general admission.  Hah.  Like assigned seats in the third row, on the wrong side of the theater no less, would keep us away from the edge of the stage. 

And what a show it was.  When the first crashing notes struck as a sliver of light became apparent between the pale blue velvet curtains, Sharon and I bolted from our row and slammed ourselves up against the front of the stage directly in front of Jack and his silver lamé pants.  Obviously excited to be playing not only in his hometown but also his first show at the Fox Theater, he started the show at a frenetic pace.  But within a few songs, it became apparent he was pissed off at the number of people in the audience texting or just standing like zombies.  Eleanor later showed me a photo of a girl next to her who'd passed out in her chair. The girl next to me at the stage and the people with her stood stock still through the whole show, not even applauding, as if they were afraid the slightest motion would muss their oh-so-pretty hair or clothes.  I was tempted to call an undertaker to measure the girl for a coffin, she was so dead.  If Jack was seeing even more of that from the stage, no wonder he was so angry.  And was he ever angry.  When the curtain was swept shut after a short set, it almost seemed as if he might not come back.  

But he did, with the curtains being drawn back for another brief set that began with a frenetic Fell In Love With a Girl and ended with Jack shushing the crowd halfway through Hardest Button to Button and sarcastically telling us we were too loud before maniacally shrieking the last verse of the song at the top of his lungs and having the curtains swept shut again as the band continued to play.

At this point we were stunned.  To end the show like that, with none of his usual encore/set closers, with that insane ending to the song... But no, he came slamming back out for a third set that had a roller-coaster up-and-down pace and a relentless emotional intensity even for the softer songs.  At one point, I can't recall which song, he apparently reached out to grab a cymbal just as drummer Daru Jones brought a stick down on his hand.  At the end of the song, he stood at his amps with his back to the audience, struggling to remove the ring he was wearing on that hand. He finally wrenched it off and spun around yelling "Shit!!", then grabbed a glass of what appeared to be whiskey and smashed it against one of his amps.  Through all of this raging craziness, I was right there with him, pissed off at the audience on his behalf, laughing empathetically at his sarcastic comments, choked up and near tears when he chose to express anguish.  His performance of You've Got Her In Your Pocket is a perfect example of the mania of this show, beginning with Jack making a face and mimicking the people in the audience playing with their phones before muttering "Text, motherfuckers, text!" as he walked toward the mic (which didn't make it through the speakers but that I heard clearly), and then finishing the song with heart-breaking poignancy. Sharon and I were both in tears by the end of it.

The show finally really did end three songs later with Goodnight Irene, during which I put my arm around Sharon's shoulder and she reached up to hold my hand as we swayed back and forth.  When Jack stepped to the front of the stage right above us to encourage the audience to sing along with the last chorus, I couldn't give him what he wanted.  I mouthed the words, but kept my voice silent so I could try to hear him un-mic'd, as I had in Omaha, Nebraska two years ago.  

We all walked out of the astoundingly gorgeous theater afterward and I sat on a curb along the street trying to take notes about the show with shaking hands.  I hate seeing Jack frustrated and angry in that fashion, the same way I would sympathetically not want to see anyone feeling that way.  But at the same time, I love seeing him in that state because he takes those terrible emotions and uses them like lighter fluid, fanning his own fire in order to try to build one in the crowd.  As I was processing what'd just happened, I couldn't help but wonder what we were in store for two nights later, when he would be playing again at the Detroit Masonic Temple.  The only thing I felt I could be sure of was that it would be different.  And sure enough, it was.  

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