Jack White is coming to St. Louis.
Not so long ago, that announcement would have shot past me without so much as a second thought. But these days, I find myself kind of wanting to check out the show.
Of course, this desire has been significantly reduced because he’s playing the gig in a basketball arena, and I detest concerts in large rooms. But that’s another issue for another day.
I also found myself thinking that venue seemed a little optimistic. Are 10,000 people really going to show up for a Jack White gig? Well, I have been known to underestimate the popularity of an artist or two in my lifetime. Clearly, Jack and company know something I don’t.
I was never much of a White Stripes fan. I’ll be the first to admit that my musical snobbery simply wouldn’t let me go there. It was the drumming, primarily. I couldn’t get past it.
My drum heroes are Bill Bruford, Neil Peart, Tony Williams, Max Roach, and other heavyweights. Meg White? Please. I’m used to drummers who excel in 6/4, 7/8, 5/4, 9/8, and other crazy time signatures. Hearing the White Stripes pounding away in front of and behind a basic 4/4 was like nails on a chalkboard. Thanks, but I’ll pass.
(If Meg White has since become some kind of amazing drum phenom, feel free to point me toward a clip or two. I have no problem with eating my words.)
Jack White’s guitar was something else entirely.
Don’t get me wrong: Jack will never make me forget Adrian Belew, Jeff Beck, or Jimi Hendrix. But there was something fundamentally guttural, raunchy, and basic about his sound. It was bluesy! And that I had NO problem with.
He also has a knack for using effects I like, like ring modulators, a Digitech Whammy Pedal and a Zvexx Fuzz Factory. (This is a guess, based on personal guitar experience. His actual rig may be a little different.) The guitars themselves look like boutique copies of vintage instruments from the sixties. Very hip.
White also earned a couple of points when I saw him in a documentary called It Might Get Loud with Jimmy Page and The Edge. That was the first time I got to see White’s true passion for music in general, and the blues in particular.
Lord knows that bloody “Seven Nation Army” song was all over the radio. I reached the point where I wouldn’t change the station when it came on. White also had a side project called the Raconteurs, which I liked a little more than the White Stripes. But not enough to buy it.
Then came “Icky Thump.” It was like Jack White pulled out all the stops in terms of guitar tones, just to get my attention. Well it worked! There were all kinds of guitar techniques at work during this song, include a “bagpipe” effect I’ve heard used by Adrian Belew and Frank Zappa.
How could I ignore someone making a racket like that?
Then came the Dead Weather. White and his band hit on a sound I couldn’t resist. It was nasty, nasal, and bluesy. Best of all, it had swagger! Of course White is the drummer for one of my favorite songs on the album, but that’s beside the point. He goes back and forth between there and guitar.
The sound I heard was something I could get next to. I decided to dig a little deeper.
Lo and behold, I found myself really enjoying both Lazaretto and Blunderbuss. White dug deep into his well of influences, tapping into the sounds of Detroit (his hometown), Americana and blues while integrating his signature sound into the mix.
Jack White’s music will never make me cast aside King Crimson, Miles Davis, or Frank Zappa. But it does provide a welcome change of pace. I like to call it “going lo-fi.” That’s not meant as a slight. White’s sound is — to my mind — more elemental and delightfully basic. It’s a great palate-cleanser after lots of trippy notes and odd time signatures.
I’m still not going to the show. But should Jack White choose to play a smaller room, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll show up.