At Deer Lake Park on Thursday, August 28
Jack White in the bucolic setting of Deer Lake Park shouldn’t compute. He’s always looked like something that was hatched from a huge egg sac in a dank cellar in Detroit—you wouldn’t call him the outdoorsy type, exactly—but there was something right about watching this deathlessly talented freak remodel himself yet again beneath the towering pines of the Pacific Northwest on Thursday (August 28). Not least of all because so much of his set had the antique quality of mountain and porch music forced through a battery of screaming tube amps. Plus, on occasion (and ignoring the tensor bandage), he was barefoot. Back to nature!
Every once in a while an artist comes along who somehow magically reminds you of everything you ever loved, and White has been that guy for almost 15 years. As such, “Missing Pieces” from 2012’s Blunderbuss album was chopped and changed into something resembling the MC5’s “The Human Being Lawnmower”, while Lazaretto’s “Just One Drink” came on like a country soul number by way of NYC in the ‘60s, towering over the recorded version as a result. Sticking to the new album (which White mostly didn’t), “Temporary Ground” eased via a gorgeous piano break into “Alone in My Home”, either one bridging the gap between Led Zeppelin III and the awesome vision of hillbilly head music White brought to his 2004 collaboration with Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose. (And, again, the original versions of both numbers paled in comparison.)
Supported by a five-piece band that included theremin, pedal steel, keyboards, and Lillie Mae Risch wielding both mandolin and fiddle—all of it built on what amounted to a 90-minute cannonade of drum fills from Daru Jones—White frequently walked the thin line between the woodsy sounds of Americana and his own peculiar brand of bombast. Life in Nashville must be getting to him, but only so much. A cornpone makeover of “Hotel Yorba” was all fiddle and double bass, but it still had the metallic sci-fi edge that White naturally brings to everything. Shit got even weirder when De Stijl’s “Apple Blossom” turned from a marching garage rocker into something that might have emerged from Weimer Germany, complete with swooning piano.
Much of the show had this “what the fuck are they doing?” quality about it—and it was thrilling. Raconteurs’ track “Top Yourself” started, stopped, and sputtered all over the damn place, up until it settled into a slow groove and a parade of duelling solos. Every number took its own crooked path, and White Stripes chestnuts like “Icky Thump”, “Ball and Biscuit” and the encore ending “Seven Nation Army” were blown up into monstrous displays of virtuosity that pirouetted on the edge of chaos.
You know who else we might have been reminded of, with all that restless reinvention, noise, unruliness, and abandon? Dylan. This was like the Rolling Thunder tour sponsored by an absinthe company. Not that you'd ever mistake the guy up there for anyone else. “You’ve been incredible and I’ve been Jack White,” he said, just before leaving the stage, so it was definitely him.