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From Boston Calling 2018: Jack White Brings His Distinct Sound and Politics to Boston

At the end of a day full of heavyweights from every branch of rock, such as St. Vincent, Queens of the Stone Age, and Manchester Orchestra, it was fitting that the closing act of the second day of Boston Calling was a king of the genre: Jack White. Having produced over a dozen albums as a part of three bands and as a solo act, White has embodied many aspects of rock’n’roll, from its blues and rockabilly roots to the garage-rock revival of the 2000s. All these tendencies were on display tonight as White and his band played songs careening wildly across his career, rarely pausing between songs. The effect of this temporal wandering was to demonstrate White’s range while also emphasizing the stripped-down, energetic core of his music.

White opened with “Over and Over and Over,” one of the more popular tracks off of “Boarding House Reach,” his latest album, only to play “Wasting My Time” just two songs later. This last tune is off The White Stripes’ very first, eponymous album, released in 1999. In the first ten minutes of the concert, White had bridged two decades of his music seamlessly. Indeed, White proceeded to play songs from every band of which he’s been involved, but with a clear bias towards The White Stripes and his solo career, and away from his from work with The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs.

Perhaps the best way to think about White’s performance, however, is less as a set of songs and more as a nearly two-hour-long stream of almost unbroken guitar riffs and drum beats. White’s vocals were, as always, frenetic and distorted from singing too close to the mic. Between that and the clear focus on the guitar’s mixing, it was hard to make out many of the lyrics, further adding to the blending effects of White’s signature style.

A few of White’s songs did stand out from the mix, however: “Hotel Yorba,” another from his White Stripes days, was notable for its acoustic, classic sound, heavily tinged with bluegrass and rockabilly, a welcome break from the harder, heavier, and more distorted sounds of White’s later work. Others included the title tracks from his solo albums “Blunderbuss” and “Lazaretto,” the latter being an electrified, punky, funky tune in line with his recent sensibilities.

Despite White’s long and successful career after they broke up, The White Stripes are still responsible for many of White’s biggest hits, and he clearly recognized this. He ended the first part of his show on “The Hardest Button to Button,” off of their 2003 album “Elephant.” Meg White’s simple, bass-drum-heavy beat (played by his current drummer, Carla Azar) provided a foundation for him to climb up and down the scale on his guitar. After finishing shredding, the band left the stage to be replaced by photos of themselves, one at a time, on the massive screens surrounding the stage.

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The biggest song of the night was yet to come, however, and its arrival was presaged by the crowd, who, while waiting for White’s return, chanted the iconic melody of “Seven Nation Army.” When he and his band inevitably took the stage once more, it was clear what song would close out the night.

Before that, however, was an extended, roughly ten-song encore. The encore was overtly political at times. At one point, Donald Trump’s face popped up on screen, only to be used as a dartboard by Azar in video form.

This was far from the only animation, however: A geometric dog running along an empty road accompanied the song “Why Walk a Dog?,” and architectural imagery (a tunnel with neon lightning bolts, an arched hallway, a stained-glass window) was commonplace. Scattered throughout were the three vertical white lines that function as a quasi-logo for White. Always a stickler for color, White traded the iconic red-and-white palette of The White Stripes for cooler tones. Blue lights flooded the stage, and many of the background animations and videos had a blue or grayscale color scheme.

Eventually, White could put off the end no longer—although he resisted it. “I don’t wanna go,” he told the audience at one point. “I don’t wanna go but they’re making me go.” Indeed, he did play longer than the time allotted him on the schedule by at least ten minutes. Despite this, White kept the energy up to the very end—towards the end of the encore, he was so frenetic in his movements that he knocked over one of Azar’s cymbals by accident. Certainly, when it came time to play “Seven Nation Army,” both he and the audience were at the peak of excitement, only to go their separate ways just a few minutes later. White closed out his show with a plea for his audience to “Spread positivity, not hate.”

White is certainly a virtuoso, a multi-instrumentalist who felt as comfortable hopping on the piano for a few songs as he did shredding on his guitar. He put on an incredible show, full of his signature vitality and skill. At the same time, however, his set provided a thought-provoking reminder of the risks of early fame. White’s star has far from faded, and he continues to put out new and exciting music, but at the end of the day, nothing he played could get his audience as excited as a 15-year-old song. Still, White continues to exemplify some of the best that rock has to offer, and his placement as a headliner of Boston Calling was well-earned.


—Staff writer Ethan B. Reichsman can be reached at ethan.reichsman@thecrimson.com

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