At Rogers Arena on Sunday, August 12
Ever the shapeshifter, Jack White has been many things during his past visits to Vancouver.
In the beginning, the White Stripes positioned him as a Pillsbury Doughboy–pallored neo-bluesman from the gritty Motor City.
The Raconteurs (with collaborators Brendan Benson and two Greenhornes) proved him to be a willing team player with a gift for radio-friendly pop.
The Dead Weather showcased him as a hardhitting drummer happy to hang back in the shadows as moonlighting Kills frontwoman Alison Mosshart did the dirty work on the mike.
On Sunday night at Rogers Arena, White had something of a challenge on his hands, namely connecting with 10,000 or so fans who, for the most part, arrived determined to glue their ass cheeks to their seats.
That this was an unenviable task didn’t escape the 43-year-old. About half way through the show, White finally engaged in some between-song banter, noting he’d met someone earlier in the day who asked how he dealt with playing impersonal caverns.
The man evidently had a strategy. He showed up ready, willing, and totally able to play the role of full-bore guitar god. And it was fucking stunning.
It's important to note White’s hour-and-a-half show wasn’t all lightning-strike savagery. A delicate “Love Interruption” was the evening’s prettiest moment, and a honky-tonkin’ "Hotel Yorba" (complete with saloon boogie piano) was arguably the most fun.
But what stood out was the guitar pyrotechnics. White played like a man whose amps go two past 11, whether rampaging through the Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like a Buffalo” or playing one-man army for a frazzled solo version of “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known”.
A ragged “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” was salted with a heatseeking, uncharacteristically extended solo, while the show-opening “Over and Over and Over” kicked things off in the most chaotic and beautifully brutal of ways.
How great was White’s louder-than-Deafheaven playing? Well, let’s just say that at times it almost made you forget that Carla Azar was putting on a mesmerizing clinic on the drums.
There’s a good reason she was positioned right at the front of the stage: as amazing as she is technically, she’s one of those rare players who understands the greatest drummers also put on a visual spectacle. When White and his four backing musicians (a second guitarist and two keyboardists rounded out the band) lined up for group bow at show’s end, it was Azar he embraced first.
The night wasn’t without visual pop, and it included more than Azar attacking her kit. A black-and-white video backdrop before the show had White sitting at a console in silhouette, cheekily (given his retro-obsessions) messing with the minutes and seconds on a countdown reel.
From there, visuals were sporadic but effective, backdrop clips showing Metropolis-like cogs and gears in motion or (in a weird diversion) Azar playfully throwing darts at a likeness of Donald Trump.
Refreshingly, those in the audience actually paid attention to what was going on onstage instead of watching the show through a screen, as White was successful in banning phones from the show. (When you showed up you were given a green bag to plop your iPhone into, after which it was locked for you to take to your seat. An army of Rogers officials were there at all doors at show's end, unlocking the bags quickly and hyper-efficiently with no wait as folks exited.)
In the end, though, this was a night not about the visuals (have we gushed about the genuis of Azar enough?), but instead about the music.
White’s generally known as rock ’n’ roll’s last great innovator. On this night he again showed himself to be an unstoppable guitar god, technically gifted but also a master of texture and tone.
Like the best gods he was a benevolent one, thanking, profusely, Vancouver’s Union Tube and Transistor for creating the pedals that he’s been using on his current Boarding House Reach tour.
The night ended with a version of “Seven Nation Army” so passionately rendered that all of Rogers was suddenly on its feet, belting out the “Woah, oh, oh, oh” part as the singer played the role of sweat-drenched conductor.
As White stood there beaming, wringing all manner of monster sounds out of his guitar, it was hard not to think he looked like a god. A god who realized he just created something really, really good.