At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Sunday, May 27
At the risk of suggesting one of the greatest artists of this generation is a liar, let’s throw this out: there is no all-male backing band. That, of course, is not what Jack White would have us believe.
As has been well-documented, White has an impish habit of bending the truth, this probably inspired by the P.T. Barnum huckster inside of him. And as he’s been telling folks in interviews for his Top 10–bound debut solo album, Blunderbuss, his first tour going it alone has him backed by two separate bands, one of them all girls (the Peacocks) and other all boys (Los Buzzardos).
Sure, the fact that Jack White popped up a few weeks back on England’s Later... With Jools Holland flanked by a bunch of dudes, billed as Los Buzzardos, might suggest that the men do in fact exist. But it’s also possible that boob-tube showcase was staged to throw fans off the scent. Because, really, what guys could handle the mission-impossible task of having to top the brilliance of what Vancouver was lucky enough to witness on Sunday?
You want fucking awesome? That would be the sight of “13-months-pregnant” Bryn Davies skipping on-stage and proceeding to give ’er on her standup bass like the ’50s never went out of style. Or blond pedal-steel player Margaret Björklund, who seemed ripped right from the pages of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, not because she was Danish, but because women simply don’t play the pedal steel, especially when they are from Denmark.
The spectacle didn’t stop there. Let’s not overlook the ass-kicking mastery of drummer Carla Azar; on a mission to channel both Keith Moon and the timekeeping monkey from the Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatry” video, she was arguably the most captivating person on-stage. From a strictly musical perspective, best-in-show honours went to flame-haired keyboardist Brooke Waggoner, who was as at-home unleashing her inner funk queen as she was rolling out the saloon-boogie blues. Bringing the soul was backup singer Ruby Amanfu. Adding plenty of down-home warmth was fiddle player Lillie Mae Rische.
By the way, did we mention that every member of the band was wearing a Lawrence Welk Show–vintage powder-blue dress, that colour reflecting the muted stage lighting? Actually, make that every member of the band except one: White opted for a blue-pants-and-matching-jacket combo, accessorized by a same-tone tie that would stay smartly in place until he whipped it off during an extended encore.
What’s the message here? That’s easy: it might have been Jack White’s gig, but one of the most killer concerts of the year was a group effort in every sense of the word.
What was interesting was the way that the modern-day guitar hero made no attempt to ignore his legacy. White could have been forgiven for wanting to focus exclusively on the strong-from-start-to-finish Blunderbuss , thereby leaving zero question that the man who’s given us the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather is indeed an honest-to-God stand-alone solo artist. Instead, he got the crowd on-board from the first note, leading his backing charges through a thunderstruck version of the Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”.
The two hours that followed would find him raiding his back catalogue, highlights including a stadium-size, call-and-response reinvention of the Raconteurs’ “Steady, as She Goes” and a drama-drenched mounting of that same unit’s “Carolina Drama”. The Dead Weather’s “Blue Blood Blues” also showed up, as did “Two Against One” from White’s Rome collaboration with Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi.
The first spine-chilling moment came four songs into the night, with a slinky, organ-soaked “Love Interruption” getting an unexpectedly massive roar from the crowd. That was followed by White announcing “We’re going to play some country for you—there’s got to be some people from Calgary here,” and then heading to hoe-down territory with a fiddle-scorched take on the Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba”.
As much as the Peacocks looked like they could hold their own at the Grand Ole Opry, it wasn’t all country-fried goodness, with White unleashing some awe-inspiring metallic–K.O. guitar violence in Blunderbuss offerings like “Hypocritical Kiss”. He’d prove just as adept on the ivories as on the guitar during a frantic “I Guess I Should Go to Sleep”. And he showed himself willing to give the people what they want with a lumbering version of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”, the song closing the show to the disappointment of no one.
Well, no one except Los Buzzardos, if in fact they exist, because the Peacocks weren’t just good this night, they were on fucking fire, to the point where having to follow them would be utterly thankless. And that, even Jack White would have to agree, was no lie.
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