"You got a reaction didn't you?" Jack White sang in the White Stripes' acidic "Blue Orchid" half a decade ago. As ever, White got just that on Friday night as he played a 21-song set at Webster Hall as part of the American Express "Unstaged" series. While he was ostensibly supporting the release of his first solo album, the excellent Blunderbuss, the show was more like The Jack White Travelling Revue Extravaganza, with two bands (one all-female, one all-male) hitting songs from myriad projects throughout his entire career—including absolutely jaw-dropping performances of several White Stripes classics. Below, watch the entire show (as well as individual highlights) now (while it's still up)! For anyone who ever wondered what White Stripes songs would sound like with a "real" band, here's your answer.
The highlights of the evening by far were the White Stripes songs—these were songs that had long relied on the primal, repetitive drumming of Meg White, and the minimalism that defined White's vision for the Stripes. But the full band arrangements—the Grand Ole Opry arrangement on "Hotel Yorba," fiddle on "I'm Slowly Turning Into You," pedal steel on "We're Gonna Be Friends"—brought new dimensions to the songs. Perhaps there was no better moment than show opener "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground"—just as pulverizing nearly 10 years after it announced White Blood Cells and the sound that would bring the Stripes international fame. We felt a sigh of relief when the backup vocals, the organ, and the fleshed out drumming didn't drown out the power of the song, but rather augmented it.
Also in White's favor: his voice has grown sharper and more controlled over the years. While we miss the fervor and unpredictability of his rapport with Meg during those storied Stripes shows of yore, he's traded it for a wider range of song types, and more nuanced arrangements. The newest songs benefitted the most: single "Love Interruption" had layers of texture, "Take Me With You As You Go" had frantic piano lines battling guitar, and "Freedom At 21" was a menacing highlight.
As you can see from the setlist below, White also played a few Dead Weather songs, of which "I Cut Like A Buffalo" was the highlight—it also included a few lines from Watch The Throne, a possible shout-out to Jay-Z who was in the crowd wearing a "Billionaires" sweatshirt. The room obviously erupted for "Seven Nation Army"—while we mostly loved the performance, we found the overly-complicated drumming of the second verse a bit off-putting. There's no way—or need—to improve anything about that monster song.
Overall, we slightly preferred White's all-female band (The Peacocks), who brought more melodic elements to the songs, to the all-male one (Los Buzzardos), who seemed more into pounding the songs like jackhammers. (Admittedly, The Peacocks were also more fun to watch.) The most surreal moment of the night came when White broke out bluesy gem "Hello Operator" from De Stjil—a song that we blasted while driving around aimlessly in high school. White was once a no-name Detroit musician and carpenter struggling to bring his his vision of the blues to the masses; now here he was, playing that same song as Jim Carrey and two attractive blondes danced on chairs.