“This isn’t a stadium show!” yelps Jack White, in familiar blues testifier mode, at the beginning of tonight’s performance, displaying Derren Brown-level belief in his own mind manipulation skills. “This is a club show! There’s no lasers, there’s no stage show, there’s no screens, it’s just us.”
Hmm. Well, there’s no getting away from it, this is an arena show, in a vast, corporate shed filled with 20,000 people. You can call the Gobi Desert a child’s sandpit, or the Atlantic a bathtub, but that doesn’t make it true. And so White’s decision tonight to do away with the screens at the side of the stage in order to force the venue to shrink in size means that a massive chunk of those with standing tickets - and presumably those up in the nosebleed seats - can see little more than classy blue stage lighting, an occasional glimpse of the (excellent) drummer and White’s floppy hair as he stalks the stage. No one wants or expects a Cirque Du Soleil-level eyeball-popping extravaganza, but basic vision isn’t the most outrageous demand in the world.
It’s a shame, because musically and in terms of showmanship, White and his band are on electrifying, peerless form. From barnstorming opener Fell In Love With A Girl to traditional set-closer Seven Nation Army (which, since it’s been adopted as a chant by football crowds, was made for venues like this one), the band are tight as sardines, the electricity crackling off the stage and into the crowd. With a set taking in songs from the White Stripes, The Raconteurs and White’s solo material, it seems current album Lazaretto is more of an excuse to play than the main reason, as he cheerfully ransacks his own back catalogue. White himself is a rock star in the old fashioned sense of the world - possibly to only true real rock star of his generation, in his charisma, his playful sense of spinning shaggy dog stories about his own life to create the enigmatic but magnetic creature onstage. His enthusiasm is infectious, his unique howl a rallying cry. Nashville life seems to be rubbing off on him too, with fiddle player Lillie Mae Rische giving dextrous new life to the likes of Hotel Yorba to create a brand new shade of country, the chemistry between her and White a palpable force.
Jack White doesn’t really have bad shows, and tonight was another doozy. But several nights in a smaller room rather than one in this cavernous room might have been the smarter move for someone so insistent on intimacy and authenticity.