What can I possibly say about the man that hasn’t already been said countless times by innumerable journalists, bloggers, lovers, and even haters? There’s no denying that he is one of the foremost figures in music today. Everything he says and does causes comment. Just look at how often he’s name-checked in Rolling Stone or Consequence of Sound, or listen to how often his songs are played not only on college radio and mainstream rock stations across the country, but even around the world. He’s not at uber celebrity status like Kanye West or Jay-Z. The age of the world famous ‘Rock Star’ is over (a good argument can be made that it died in the 90s with Kurt Cobain). The spotlight of music fame now shines on Rap and Hip Hop stars, and even some Country ones (I hear Keith Urban is a big deal?). But in the world of rock (whether you want to call it Indie, Alternative or whatever), Jack White towers above the rest. Only Dave Grohl might garner more love and respect.
But I’m not here to give you a bio or a recap of Jack White’s rise to fame and glory. I’m really only here to tell you about his Forecastle set. Though in order to tell you about his latest festival performance, I just wanted to put him, his place in today’s music scene, and my perspective on him (before and after his headlining performance) in some sort of context.
He’s kind of a big deal (as if y'all didn’t know, I can see you rolling your eyes!). With all of that in mind, I will say that Jack White was a selling point for my wanting to go to Forecastle this year, but he was not my deal breaker (that was The Replacements, more on that in a future post). He was also at Bonnaroo this year, and up until March, I still held out hopes of going to the Farm. After it became apparent that I was not going to be able to make it back to Manchester this summer, refusing to let my festival dreams die, I quickly sought an alternative. When Forecastle announced their lineup, I knew I’d found my summer festival. So I’ve known since at least February that I was going to see Jack White in some capacity this year.
Going into this, I was definitely excited to see him, and I’d been looking forward to seeing him live almost all year, AND I knew he wouldn’t be a let down by any stretch of the imagination. I was fully aware that he was not only a great musician but that he also puts on a great show every time he plays. I’ve never read a review that said “Jack’s heart just wasn’t in it that guitar solo during ‘Button to Button’ was clearly phoned-in." To top it off, I watched some of his performance last month at Bonnaroo via their live stream, and listened to the bootleg of his set that made the rounds on the internet afterwards. I knew his set at Forecastle would probably be shorter (due to city sound ordinance, because some cities are too old to rock and roll –kidding!!), but I figured it’d be an edited down version of what he gave the Bonnaroo crowd. After all, most artists aren’t going to play a festival crowd the same as they would a concert venue or stadium, etc. I figured Mr White would give the festival crowds the sing-along stuff and save the guitar maestro and jammy stuff for those lucky enough to see him in an actual concert hall.
I was wrong.
I knew he’d be good, I knew he wouldn’t disappoint, but I was still shocked at how great he truly was. He didn’t pander to us like we were just another festival slot on his tour, instead he jammed out like we were his hardcore faithful fans all gathered together at Third Man in Nashville. His set was simultaneously intimate and crowd pleasing. He jammed out more then he sang. Sure there were some great sing along moments, but for the most part Mr White just rocked our collective assess off. He left no one in doubt about his mastery of the guitar that night. In the end, I was left wondering if this was what it felt like to see Jimmy Page or B.B. King in their prime.
Watching him perform, I could feel that I was witnessing history. Not because Jack White playing a mid-level music festival on the banks of the Ohio River is earth-shatteringly important, but because this guy doesn’t do repeats. Yes, he’s on tour, yes he has a new album he’s promoting, so yes, his set lists are going to be similar everywhere he plays this summer…but his performance is not rewind theater. I am not disrespecting any artist who puts on a well crafted show and goes out there and does it night after night. For some, that’s their thing, but this is not for Jack White. He doesn’t go for that. ‘Spontaneous,' ‘improvised’, and even ‘chaotic’ were just some of the adjectives I heard people use to describe him the following day.
The ticket price for Forecastle alone was worth it just to see Jack White on Saturday. He exceeded my expectations. He played not only recent stuff off his latest solo album, but he reached into his back catalog and played White Stripes and Raconteurs songs, and even whipped out more than a few covers (most appropriately “Blue Moon of Kentucky”). He even sampled Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” during “Icky Thump." But what impressed me most wasn’t even the material he played, but his reinterpretation of the material. As the great Bob Dylan before him, Jack White’s greatest strength lies in not only being able to play his songs live, but to keep them fresh for him and his audience every time he does.
Jack White is clearly a passionate artist. He puts his whole heart and soul into whatever he does. Whether he’s on stage, recording an album or promoting Record Store Day, he gives off the vibe of a man who is fully committed to whatever he’s doing. Love him or hate him, but you can’t deny that. Pull up any YouTube video of him at any concert and that passion, that love is plain as day. You can see it in his face, see it in his hands as he plays the guitar, and hear it in his voice as he’s singing. This is clearly a man who is giving it his all and loving every minute of it.
I will say that leading up to his set, I had hoped that a miracle would happen and he’d go over his allotted time and keep us rocking all night long. But alas, this is a city festival and not one out in the country like Bonnaroo where one can conceivably party all night long. Mr White came on stage promptly at 9:30pm, but while he didn’t keep playing until the wee hours of the morning, he did go over thirty minutes and ended his set at roughly 11:30pm. Somewhere between 10:30 and 11, he finished his main set and went back stage where he literally changed from what looked like a gray or light blue outfit to a darker black one (with a very appropriate white tie) before coming back up for an encore. I note this because I’ve rarely noticed artists changing clothes so drastically before their encores. The man’s quirkiness is certainly one of the things that endears him to me. I was further amused when it came time to close and he took his tie off, tied it around his left arm, and then immediately started into a near seven minute version “Seven Nation Army."
The whole thing was beautifully capped off with Mr White going punk rock on his guitar in the end and throwing it into the drum set. He thanked the crowd and parted with, “The band thanks you and I thank you. You’ve been incredible, and I’ve been Jack White. Goodbye.”
As Taryn and I made our way out of the festival, we were all serenaded by multiple impromptu chants from the crowd, all of us still singing the main guitar riff of “Seven Nation Army” –literally nothing holding back our joy at having just experienced one of the best concert experiences of our lives.
He had indeed been Jack White.