How Out Of Touch With Reality Is Jack White?

Jack White wants your money, and for you to leave your phone at the door.
Jack White wants your money, and for you to leave your phone at the door. Photo by David James Swanson

Twenty years ago, the groundbreaking New York based blues outfit The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion dropped the groundbreaking album Acme. While most who read this won't remember that record, the trio mixed blues, trip hop, and hip hop with ease in a swirl that made the record hard not to like and the Deluxe version was ambitious and ahead of its time.

This is being brought up because in many ways, that's what the new album from Jack White feels like it's trying to be, except it's not groundbreaking nor is it extraordinary like Acme is. In fact, while its nice to see that White is having fun on Boarding House Reach, the album is pretty lackluster and honestly, a forgetful array of music that probably should've gotten a little more time in the writing process. Sure, Jack White made some great music with The White Stripes, and his first solo record was pretty splendid, but his second attempt and his latest are the beginnings of what sounds like a downward spiral.

Where White has received tons of accolades where Jon Spencer didn't, Spencer wasn't stupid enough to attempt to rap on his record either where White does on Boarding House Reach. While the best music comes from despair, poverty, and sadness, White might be upset because he can't find spats to match his 1920's attire, but he's been a wealthy rock star long enough to be nothing but happy and this album showcases that.

This all brings us to where we are today, White's insistence that attendees to his tour for this record, place their phones in a Yondr pouch for a "phone free experience." While that's a novel idea, below we'll examine how clueless that seems for a show where the tickets range between $79.50 to $135.

As a person who attends tons of concerts, I've always been an advocate of phones popping out with only the utmost respect for those who are performing. If you're attending a concert throughout most live music venues in Houston, you're more than likely within arms reach of the performer's face. With shorter stages that aren't very large, if there's a stage at all, it only makes sense that no performer would want a cell phone's glare in his or her face during a performance.

When artists perform in small rooms, they have every right to ask that cell phones not be in their faces while playing but when they play in rooms that can house 3,500 tickets holders, not so much. Revention Music Center, the venue that will house White for two dates here in Houston, has a capacity of more than 3,000, and the stage is a good distance from the audience in terms of height and length, making the phone-free experience asking a lot.

click to enlarge Boarding House Reach misses the point and is weird in the process. - COVER COURTESY OF BIG HASSLE
Boarding House Reach misses the point and is weird in the process.
Cover courtesy of Big Hassle

Look, Jack White is a rock star who even has his own limited edition Beats headphones, and he can ask those attending his shows to do whatever he wants to ask of them. But when the tickets run over $100, he's honestly asking a lot. Tours aren't selling particularly great today, partially due to several factors like low wages and a bruised economy. If he were performing in small theaters where the capacity were closer to 1,000 to 1,500, I could maybe see wanting no phones out during his set. But behind a mediocre album for an artist who seems doesn't really do much during a live set, it's a bit ostentatious. Add to that the fact that White will earn more in one night than many concert attendees will earn in two years if not a lifetime, and it shows how out of touch with the real world White has become.

That is before we realize that at least ten of his tour dates are at festivals, none of which will carry such rules for phones during his set. In fact, he can't enforce such rules on festival attendees no matter how badly he wants to. White wasn't dumb, as he booked the tour before anyone heard the terrible sounds of his latest record, insuring he'd get to set the amounts and rules of his shows. Does rock stardom, excess, and success make an artist place such rules on their shows? Isn't just a little bit ballsy to ask a city who went through one of the worst natural disasters in modern history, to not only shell out an upwards of $135 for two nights, but then to suggest that you'll decide what their experience should be? It certainly feels like it is.

If White were playing small and intimate theaters, I'd say he has every right to ask whatever he wants. And to be fair, he can ask whatever he wants of his fans at his shows, wherever he plays. The Yondr experience is occurring in multiple cities, not just Houston. But asking people who might have lost their cars, their homes, or their livelihoods because of Harvey to live by your "rules" at your show, is kind of punishing people who could record a great blues record with ease isn't it?

The truth is, if we don't like it, we don't have to attend the shows here. I'd love to know if you could bring old timey phones to the show or even the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x that Zack Morris made so popular on "Saved By The Bell." This all feels a bit out of touch with reality, and a far head space from a generation that could attend your shows who also expresses themselves through the use of their smartphones. Maybe this is White's way of gearing up to take what feels like a much needed break from the music industry to go make something amazing again? Maybe, just maybe he's trying to distance himself from technology and further try to convince us that he's a legitimate blues artist and not just a poser with a decrepit home and a love for the past?

Or maybe, it's what it looks like; an artist who made a terrible record, who lives in a glass house, where hopefully Boarding House Reach isn't on repeat. 

You can catch Jack White on April 30 and May 1 at Revention Music Center. The all ages shows both have phone restrictions and come with a copy of Boarding House Reach to make you hate the experience even more so. Doors both nights at 7 p.m.; tickets $79.50 to $135.
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David Garrick is a former contributor to the Houston Press. His articles focus primarily on Houston music and Houston music events.