Live review: Jack White, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Sun 21 Oct
- David Pollock
- 24 October 2018
White cuts loose with crunching guitars, spiky vocals and no setlist
Possibly the least old-school thing about the final date of Jack White's European tour in support of his third solo album Boarding House Reach (his 14 record in total, when The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather are included) were the little sealed pouches everyone was given to keep their mobile phones in, silent and unused. There were no rubberneckers creating badly-focused films of every other track, no forced communal moment where everyone was invited to hold their torches up for a ballad; instead, the entire audience was left to listen, watch and experience every moment.
This felt strangely like a novelty, although once upon a time it happened at every gig. Continuing a similar 'everything old is new again' theme, White's set is constructed from some of the rawest and most old-fashioned of materials (his crunching guitar playing, and the raw, powerful, analogue sound of his backing quartet), and yet there's very little sense that he's living in some imagined glory era when music was 'real' and 'authentic'.
In fact, the frosty synthesiser peal which rang through 'Connected By Love' meant the gospel-infused track was one of the finest moments of a set bursting with quality, yet elsewhere White relied upon a trusty magic formula. His spiky roar (which rather oddly – but perfectly – translates to his speaking voice; 'tomorrow morning – that ain't my problem,' he warns his crowd with a screech) and his guitar playing feed perfectly into one another, with a jamming, improvisational feel which results from the fact he plays with no setlist, instead choosing the songs as he goes.
His band are outstanding, even more so when you consider they're being charged with following White where he wants to go. He strides the stage, occasionally whispering something to his bandmates here or there, and leaning out into the crowd to soak up some adulation; much is made of the earthiness of his sound, but really, this is the performance of a man who would have loved to be in AC/DC or Kiss. Behind him, drummer Carla Azar in particular is a revelation, a powerhouse of technical skill who bears the kind of strength and energy levels which haven't been seen on stage with White since he and Meg were a band.
When he walks offstage after 90 minutes, with a wolf howl and a thrust of his beer bottle in the air, there's an odd sense of excitement stirred with dissatisfaction. The set so far has been committed and energetic, yet the songs played feel more like a taster; lesser White Stripes favourites like 'Hotel Yorba' and 'Ball and Biscuit', The Dead Weather's 'I Cut Like a Buffalo', and assorted solo tracks.
When the quintet return with the Stripes' 'Icky Thump', however, it's as though the main event has begun; the set isn't much more than halfway through, and we still have furious, extended versions of his most well-known band's 'Black Math', 'My Doorbell' and 'The Hardest Button to Button' to go, as well as 'Connected By Love' – his solo zenith so far – The Raconteurs' 'Steady as She Goes' and a cover of Beck's 'Devil's Haircut'. In this context, the closing 'Seven Nation Army' and the drawn-out audience chant of its musical signature while the band took their bows felt like the cherry on top of a unique show, a whole-hearted and convincing reinvention of the trad rock band sound.