Jack White AMD Stage Austin City Limits Festival, Zilker Park October 13, 2012
It's kind of complicated, the way I feel about Jack White. The last time I saw him play was probably ten years ago, before the White Stripes even got famous, at a small punk club in Oklahoma. There were maybe 20 people in the crowd, and the decade's garage-rock revival was just barely getting started. People at that show didn't quite know what to think about the band.
Since then White has switched projects and focus almost on a yearly schedule. He's out-famed his onetime partner Meg, dated movie stars, produced albums for country legends and even been in a few films. But I still don't know what to think of Jack White. To be perfectly honest, mostly I think I'm sick of his antics.
He made headlines a few weeks ago for cutting a show short in New York because he didn't like the reception from the crowd. But at Saturday night's Austin City Limits show he barely even acknowledge a crowd existed, muttering a brief "Hello, Austin" about halfway into the set.
There are other things that rub me the wrong way, like the novelty of an all-girl band. Mainly they're just bids for attention, along the same lines as the "Are they siblings or married?" plotline that followed the White Stripes. The only difference is that White shouldn't have to resort to these gimmicks to get people talking now, because by all accounts his musical skill speaks for itself.
And that's why my feelings about him are complicated. Because on the surface of it, there was nothing musically or technically wrong with his show last night. But for all the skill he's exhibited in bands like Dead Weather and Raconteurs, he's lost that touch of rawness that made music lovers like me fans in the first place.
Someone on Twitter said it best: He sounds like a Jack White cover band. He's gone from raw to the exact opposite, totally contrived.
Nowhere was this more evident than the first song, "The Hardest Button To Button." White's backing band of white prom-dress-clad women took a song that was once a gristly combo of drums and fuzz and added in violin, bass, piano and more. It was just all too much. (That said, his drummer was a badass.)
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That's not to say there were't high points. "Blue Blood Blues" was one of them. Towards the end of the night he perked up and engaged the audience in a call-and-response for "Steady, as She Goes." Perhaps it just took him a while (like, three-quarters of the set) to get in his groove, because "Seven Nation Army," which came late in the show, sounded like the purest form of Jack White I can remember -- the real Jack White, not Jack White the character.
White's new album, Blunderbuss, has gotten mixed reviews. Perhaps that's the problem with dabbling in a dozen different styles. At one point in the show I started thinking of how Paul McCartney's sound switched from the Beatles to Wings. Think about that and ask yourself: Which version of Paul McCartney do you prefer?