February 7, 2015

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 11: Aural first aid at Madison Square Garden. That's A-U-R-A-L

Yes!! I found the one cab driver in all of Manhattan who doesn't know how to get to LaGuardia! And who asked me not which airline I was flying out from, but which terminal, as if I'd know. And who then, after not being sure he'd taken the correct exit to the airport, told me when we finally got there that he needed me to read the signs to figure out which terminal American was at because "we need to work together, help each other". And who turned to me when we pulled up at the terminal and said "We went through a toll. Did you pay it?" And who then said, after I'd swiped my credit card, "You added the toll, but there's no tip on this".  

Uh huh. I'd woken up with no voice, not even a hoarse one, so arguing with the cabbie on the way to the airport was great fun. Why did I have no voice, do you ask? Well, because I was sick. Why was I sick? Well, because I'd spent so many days this week outside in the cold and wind (and some brief snow flurries), wrapped up in blankets on a sidewalk waiting to get on the rail at Jack White shows, to get my inner junkie her fix. Last night's was an arguably historic show at the historic Madison Square Garden and it went a long way towards eradicating all memory of those hours of shivering. If only I could eradicate the coughing and sniffling.

Jack's had a tempestuous relationship with New York. On the Blunderbuss tour alone, he played five tremendous shows, but the one most people talk about is the one that he pulled the curtain on after playing only an hour. I'm not going to go into detail about that show because you can still find all the articles about it on the internet, though I will say that I'm convinced I will go down in history as the only person who was glad he cut it short because I was as pissed off at the crowd that night as he was. So, after hearing that there would be no shows in NY this tour, presumably because he was still pissed, the announcement of the MSG show was a huge surprise. If he had to go to NY, he was apparently going to cram as many people into one show as he could, and no damned seated theater would do. As he told Jordan Klepper, Madison Square Garden has an energy that seated theaters in NY just don't have, no matter how renowned.

For this show, Jack swung to the opposite gamut from Nashville two days ago, where he'd celebrated the music of that town with openers William Tyler and Loretta Lynn.  To celebrate playing at the Garden in one of the hometowns of hip-hop, he enlisted rappers Run the Jewels to open.  Not my cup of tea, though I will give them (and featured guest Zack de la Rocha, that was exciting) credit for working their asses off to get the crowd fired up.  

When it was his turn, Jack exploded like gangbusters with Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground. Within a few songs, I realized with a bit of surprise that he was repeating the same exact set he'd played in Nashville.  The energy was off the charts, though, so at the time it was just something curious and I didn't give a damn. And from the moment that he dropped Broken Boy Soldier (one of my favorite live songs) into the middle of Cannon, he began to break things up a little bit and I became so caught up that I stopped thinking about comparisons.  

Except that it continued to remain very similar, though wildly different at the same time. After an insane Ball'n'Biscuit that almost led to toppled monitors at one end of the stage, the curtains swung shut for the encore break.  

Then once again, just like at Nashville, Jack had a surprise in store for us.  After blowing my little mind by beginning the second set with That Black Bat Licorice (my other favorite live song), he suddenly introduced a special guest-- But instead of someone iconic like Loretta joining him on stage, out came former Tribe Called Quest member, Q-Tip, rapping out the tongue-twisting lyrics of Black Bat alongside Jack.  Jack was obviously on cloud 9 as he, his band, and Q-Tip then launched into a cover of Excursions, bouncing around with a huge grin on his face. I didn't know the song, but it was fascinating to watch how he and the band handled a hip-hop tune being sung by the original artist, to notice when and how Jack chose to add flourishes of guitar.  


Another angle just for the hell of it--

I couldn't see what was happening behind me, but from watching Jack it was obvious that the huge crowd filling the sold out Garden was giving him exactly what he wanted and needed, what he'd not felt he'd gotten at Radio City two and a half years before.  He kept up a hyperventilation-inducing pace for the next few songs, leading directly into Sixteen Saltines, Astro, and Steady As She Goes.  God or whatever's above, bless him for finally giving us a break in the form of Would You Fight For My Love. 


A couple songs later, the Kay came out and it was time to see how New York would perform on Seven Nation Army. If anyone were to need an indication of how heady a night this was for Jack, what happened during this song is the example I'd give them.  He chose a spot 8 or so people down the rail from me to climb over into the crowd.  It crossed the junkie's mind for one brief moment to try to squeeze through the crowd to get closer, but it was over too quickly, I wouldn't have made it in time. And as it was, I was in a great vantage spot to see him hovering in the air over the fans below him, gazing back toward the far reaches of the arena. For those few seconds that he was on top of the crowd, Jack White was on top of the world.

Photo courtesy of Babette Ross and permission to use is very much appreciated.
She must've been only a couple rows behind where I was standing.
Photo by David James Swanson
  Go to about 2:40 for that moment--

Another angle, with his launch into the crowd at 4:30 in--

I can only begin to imagine the incredible high he must have felt, the combination of adrenalin, adoration, and pure energy.  It surely must've been at least as intense a high for him as he gives to us, and I was thrilled for him, and thrilled for myself that I was able to be a part of it.  Cold sidewalk?  For a show as exhilarating as this one, I'd spend every night on a cold sidewalk. 

During Top Yourself, just before the encore break, Jack had asked the crowd how we were doing and let us know that if we needed, he had an aural first aid kit up on stage, spelling out A-U-R-A-L, and saying he hoped it made us feel good when we needed it. Needless to say, I already knew about it, though I consider it a drug rather than first aid and it was why the junkie and I were there in the first place. It has definitely cured many of my ills on many occasions (except for the coughing and sniffling on the way to the airport the next morning, of course).

Could this be the rare show at which Jack might admit he was having... fun?  Watch some of those videos up there and tell me that's not someone having a ball, having a blast, having the time of their life. Jack may have a different definition of the word "fun" than the average person, but there was too much exuberance on that stage, too much joy, for that word to not spring to mind.  

Photo by David James Swanson

And, thanks to the magic of the interwebs, you can listen to the entire Madison Square Garden show here.  The junkie was off to Ohio after that lovely cab ride to the airport.  Here's where she's been.

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