Beards, Blazers & Glasses: The Raconteurs
There was a palpable buzz crackling in the air during the Raconteur's concert Wednesday night. The promise of seeing Jack White at the small art-deco venue, the Henry Fonda Theatre, had brought out all of LA's clueless. Record company executives, Hollywood, agents, wealthy fans with a casual appreciation for music, and those people with enough free time on their hands to have scooped up tickets in the first four minutes that they went on-sale back in March (i.e. me, Webster's definition of "Too Much Time on His Hands").
By the time the concert rolled around, they were going for nearly $200 a pop on EBAY, as people had obviously learned The Passion of the Weiss First Rule of Concert Going: When Jack White Comes to Your Town Make Sure To Be There.
I know I can a tad pretentious at times (uh...did you read the Sunset Rubdown review?) but when it comes down to it, I'm a classic rock man. And that's why I like Jack White so much. Out of anyone that this generation has produced, he is the most worthy heir to the classic rock tradition of Led Zep, The Stooges and Hendrix. As one of the network executives on the Simpsons might've said about Poochie, when they're on stage they get biz-ay...consistently and thoroughly.
I'd caught White thrice previous. The first time at Coachella 2003 (when his performance was powerful enough to make me re-evaluate my attitude towards current rock music), the second time that same summer at a mid-sized arena in New Orleans, and the third time last summer at the Greek Theater when he was touring Get Behind Me Satan. All three times had been nothing short of staggeringly brilliant. Jack White doesn't just do concerts, he puts on a full-fledged show. All dazzling guitar pyrotechnics, searing molten riffs and rhythm. Plus, you aren't just going to hear the latest single of the album. You're just as likely to hear an old B-Side off the first album as you are to hear "My Doorbell." That's why he is awesome. He doesn't care about selling records. He cares about making great music.
But other people seem to think Jack White deeply cares about selling records and can't get down with the fact that his sound resembles something....well mainstream [insert collective gasp here].
Just check out Pitchfork's last three ratings of Jack White projects. Elephant got a 6.9. Get Behind Me Satan received a 7.3, as did the Raconteur's Broken Boy Soldiers Album. The first three White Stripes albums received an 8.3., 9.0., 9.0.
So what is it? Is Jack White slipping? Has he all of a sudden lost any sort of talent and slipped into a coma of mediocrity and self-indulgence? No. He hasn't. Not at all. Elephant is a certifiable classic and if Get Behind Me Satan were a debut album, critics would hailing it as a "bold and striking statement of genius." Look, I like the Band of Horses album quite a bit, but anyone who tells me that it's better than Get Behind Me Satan is only deluding themselves.
And the Raconteurs album? Mr. White's vaunted side project? Well, naturally almost every critic was quick to savage it as 1970s FM-lite. Kate Sullivan in the LA Weekly was quick to point out how suddenly Jack seems so mean-spirited now that Meg isn't around to balance him out.
Pitchfork said "tie on the celebrity blindfold, and Broken Boy Soldiers no longer seems like that much of an achievement-- just another case of men recreating their favorite vinyl deep cuts, if a bit more skillfully than most FM scrapbookers."
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Allow me a brief translation: Jack White is popular. He's not ours anymore. Please pass me the new Liars record. Now that Jack White has become a "rock star," he's no longer as original. Suddenly, something that was once fresh and innovative has become tired rock star posturing. After all, how could anyone make music that could be liked by both rock critics and the "common folk." Impossible.
I'm not the first one to point out the fairly obvious divide between critics and listeners. After all, it's practically household knowledge that Led Zep and the Grateful Dead were critically reviled for most of their careers. But other than Robert Hilburn, the now retired music for the LA Times, almost every big-shot critic in America has missed the boat on Jack White. And that's too bad. Because after watching the Raconteurs play live, it left me no doubt that Jack White is the number one rock star in the world today (sorry Jim James and Spencer Krug, you guys will just have to settle for the Silver and Bronze).
On-stage, White radiates a sense of energy so strong that it's almost impossible to take your eyes off of him. Bursting with charisma and emotion, he seems to consume every bit of light in the room and harness it towards wherever he's standing. Live, his voice carries a mix of power and raw emotion rarely heard. A lot of critics have rightfully compared it to Robert Plant. And like Plant, the true genesis of White lies in the Blues. People get confused. The guy from Wolfmother is trying to sound like Robert Plant. But not Jack White. He's channeling pure Son House, Howlin Wolf, Robert Johnson, with maybe a little bit of Iggy Pop thrown in. And if White's music happens to sound a little like his classic rock forebears, you think the critics could've pieced together the fact that they're drawing from the same shared touchstones.
But this review isn't about critics. Or at least it shouldn't be. It should be about the show and it's a mix of primal psychadelic guitar riffs and pop mastery. It should be about the rest of the band, very worthy in their own right. Brandon Benson