While Jack White isn't the last rock star on the planet, he's the last musician to achieve true rock-star status, joining the likes of Jimmy Page, the Edge, Keith Richards, and Slash as a true, instantly recognizable icon. The man born John Anthony Gillis first surfaced as the figure who dragged rock out of the mortuary in 2001. Labelled dead after the late-'90s rise of raves and electronica, the genre suddenly rose phoenix-like, with the White Stripes at the front of a rebirth that gave us the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Hives. Rock is again in one of its dormant periods, but that hasn't stopped White from remaining active, his latest, Boarding House Reach, bringing him to Rogers Arena on Sunday (August 12). This is your chance to see a legend.
RAIN MAN. Jack White was raised in Detroit (the seventh son, and the last of 10 children) and currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee. One has to wonder, though, if he might be perfectly happy on the West Coast, especially between the months of November and April. It seems that he has something of a thing for the sound of rain. That required some sonic modifications when he bought his current residence, a southern outer-Nashville mansion sitting on seven acres just down the road from a former abode of Hank Williams. Being unable to hear the sound of the rain when he was going to sleep, White had microphones installed in the eaves outside the house’s windows, then piped the sound into speakers in his bedroom.
While that might seem like a trivial thing, it was important enough to provide a great closer to Josh Eells’s excellent New York Times profile of White in 2017. Covering everything from raising two kids (Scarlett and Henry) to growing up in Detroit’s Mexicantown, the piece ends with this: “But of everything, he seemed most excited about those rain microphones. He’d finally got around to installing them, and they were already paying off. 'A few weeks ago, the kids were in my bed,' he said. 'Six in the morning—it was still dark. I said to Scarlett, ‘Is it raining?’ and she said no—which goes to show you really can’t tell. She hadn’t seen the trick yet. So I said: ‘Let me see. Let me turn the rain on.’ And it wasn’t just sprinkling—it was storming. And she said the greatest thing—she said, ‘Can you turn the sun up, too?’ White laughed. 'I had a big choice there. Should I keep letting her think I have control of the weather? You want your children to think you can control the weather if you need to. At this point,' he said, 'she still thinks I control the rain.'”
ONE-TIME TIMEKEEPER. The White Stripes made Jack White famous, but they weren’t his first band. In the mid-’90s, he joined Detroit’s Goober & the Peas, a cowpunk unit well worth not only checking out, but throwing on a mix tape with the likes of the Gun Club, Hank Williams III, and the Meat Puppets. Still in his teens, the future Jack White was nicknamed “Doc” in the group, and while he’d find future fame as a guitarist, he started out his career as a drummer. You’ll see White, looking about 12 years old, in the seemingly peyote-dosed video below for “Loose Lips”.
LADIES FIRST, PLEASE. White has been up-front about how one of the greatest regrets in his life was the White Stripes folding its candy-striped tent in 2007. His main—i.e. only—collaborator in the band was, of course, drummer Meg White, who he for years insisted was his sister, but who, as was gradually leaked on the Internet, turned out to be his ex-wife. In the years that followed, White formed the all-male Raconteurs (whose "Carolina Drama” remains one of the greatest songs he’s ever written) and then slipped back behind the kit for the Alison Mosshart–fronted Dead Weather. That means he’s worked closely with both guys and girls over the course of his career, including famously taking two separate, rotating bands (one all men, the other all women) out on road with him for his 2012 Blunderbuss tour. (Vancouver was lucky enough to get the ladies at a scorching Queen Elizabeth Theatre show, reviewed here.)
Anyone (i.e. me) who’d rather hang out with dudettes than dudes might wonder which sex Jack White finds more pleasant to be around, at least as a creative. He answered that in a 2102 cover story in the Straight. “I don’t like to play music for men,” White said. “For some reason, I think there’s too much cloudiness with men—too much territorial, egotistical competition with male musicians. I always feel like I don’t get an honest response. With women, it seems like you can really tell, immediately, if they are emotionally attaching themselves to a song.”
NO CELL SERVICE. What can you expect from White’s Rogers Arena show? The easy answer is to expect the unexpected. Guesting on Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich’s radio show, It’s Electric!, the ever-offbeat singer said that he hits the stage without a set list. “Because I don’t have a set list, I react to the crowd just like a standup comedian would,” he says. “If a standup comedian goes on-stage and they tell a couple of jokes and they hear is crickets, they know ‘Okay, those Donald Trump jokes aren’t working for this crowd. I gotta go switch over to this kind of material. And they go and start talking about this.’ And that’s working. ‘Okay, now I got 'em on a roll and now I’m gonna keep going.’ That’s how I work with no set list. If I finish a song and it’s ‘Ta-da’ and it’s crickets, I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do now.’ Am I supposed to play a heavier song, a faster song? Do you want me to play acoustic? Do you want me to leave?”
What's certain is that you better not even think about hauling out your iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or 2.4-pound, shoebox-sized Motorola prototype from 1973. Like Tool, Guns N’ Roses, and Alicia Keys, White (who famously doesn’t own a cellphone) has banned all mobiles from his current tour, announcing a couple of months back: “We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON. Upon arrival at the venue, all phones and other photo or video-capturing gizmos will be secured in a Yondr pouch that will be unlocked at the end of the show. You keep your pouch-secured phone on you during the show and, if needed, can unlock your phone at any time in a designated Yondr Phone Zone located in the lobby or concourse.” Part of the reason for that? As he tells Ulrich below, it’s a great way make sure people are actually engaged in the show and in the moment.
HIP-HOP HEAD. At age 43, Jack White is part of a generation that grew up on a steady diet of the Geto Boys (“Fuck ’Em”!), Public Enemy (“Night of the Living Baseheads”!!) and N.W.A (“Fuck Tha Police”!!!). But at the beginning of his career, when he was often positioned as the most pastily white of retro-obsessed bluesman, the singer was outright dismissive of urban music. In a Rolling Stone profile this past spring for Boarding House Reach, he explained his early-career sneering at the genre: “At that time, digital was taking over...so of course it was my job to preach the idea of ‘This is a person singing and playing an instrument. This is the blues.’ I would just be like, ‘Here’s an unpopular opinion.’ ” But as a rarity for a guy over the age of 35, White has proven refreshingly open to expanding his musical horizons, hiring members of Kendrick Lamar’s band to play on Boarding House, and making statements like the following to Clash: “In a lot of ways, it [hip-hop] is the new punk rock. They’re doing the dangerous things—whether it’s Trippie Redd or Tekashi69; these are a very punk, dangerous side of music.”More