Jack White Live From Madison Square Garden (and My Office)
I'm writing this live from California while Jack White plays live in New York City. Here's how this happened:
My editor was all set to go see the biggest performance of Jack White's career (venue size-wise), live at Madison Square Garden, but he got hustled in a ticket scam. Hey, it's happened to all of us -- getting a ticket these days can be a wild west adventure.
And so now while he watches moths fly out of his wallet and contends with the aftermath of 'SNOWPOCALYPSE 2015: THE SNOWPOCANNING,' I'm sipping an IPA from my California home, enjoying the show via Pandora. Yes, I have a palm tree in my yard. No, I don't surf. Yes, I like tofu. No, I've never met Dave Grohl.
In the interest of keeping this concert-like, I'm writing and listening from my treadmill desk. I thought about paying my neighbor to get drunk and yell "Jack White!" directly into my ear for the next two hours, but I have my authenticity limits.
Even with my degree of social anxiety, which hovers right around "Stephen Hawking is too chatty," I miss being in the crowd. Madison Square Garden holds 475,000 people, according to figures that I just made up, and right now they're all giving off that "let's get this party started" buzz. That kind of electricity is intoxicating, which is a good value since I'm sure they're paying 12 bucks for watery domestic beer at the snack bar.
I tuned into the 'Jack White Live' Pandora station 20 minutes early to ensure that I didn't miss a note, but what happened? I missed lots of notes. User error makes me 10 minutes late for the show, but I heard some pretty hot Bootsy Collins in my stream during that time, so no worries. I miss the first two cuts, though: 'Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground' and 'High Ball Stepper.'
Technical problems aside, I think I might have the best seat in the house, other than the lack of video. Multipurpose venues, or "sheds" as they're known, tend to have pretty cruddy sound, so hearing the show right off the board is a treat. As a kid I used to stay up and listen to live shows on the King Biscuit Flour Hour on my little radio, and this has the same vibe but with the sonic advantage provided by a nice set of Beats headphones.
'Lazaretto,' the third track in tonight's set, spins up like a circular saw, screeching and chopping and laying waste to anything that gets in its way. I turn and high five absolutely nobody, then reconsider offering my neighbor a few bucks for some aural punishment. Jack White! Whoo!
The tone shifts so fast that I check for whiplash when the band kicks into the White Stripes' 'Hotel Yorba,' which turns into a massive sing-a-long there and a Jack White/James Stafford duet here. Jack does a pretty good job hanging with me. I admire that.
'Temporary Ground' builds on the roots vibe from 'Yorba.' This feels like the flat part of the roller coaster track, where we catch our breath before our fearless bandleader drops the bottom out again. What's next, Jack? Here I am now, entertain me.
He doesn't disappoint. A two ton, Sabbath-style riff announces the arrival of the Raconteurs' 'Broken Boy Soldier,' which sumo stomps onto the stage like a -- well, like a sumo wrestler. No sense mangling that analogy any further. This is the White I like best: heavy, dissonant, bordering on chaos but holding it together.
Then we're back to Nashville for 'Love Interruption.' The harmonies are fantastic, no complaints there, but White's stage patter between songs ranges from generic to weird. "Are you with me or against me," he screams a couple of times during the gig. Who in the crowd would be against him? Do people buy tickets to hate bands? I don't know, maybe it's a New York thing. We're all peace, love, and kombucha out here in California, after all.
'We're Going to be Friends' goes over great live, like a lost Led Zeppelin track. The crowd does a lot of the heavy lifting in the singing department, which warms things up.
The first really pronounced appearance of piano comes with 'Three Women.' There's enough funk in that cut to justify why I thought he might be using Bootsy as warm-up music. That's my story, at least, and I'm sticking to it.
They keep the adrenaline high with a bit of 'Black Math,' then slip into the dirty groove of the Raconteurs' 'Top Yourself.' White introduces the band, and I slap a beach ball around the room for no apparent reason. I spill my beer when my shadow bumps into me for the fourth time, leading me to scream "You got a problem, bro?" at the carpet for 30 solid seconds. My shadow never budges, the coward.
White segues into 'Ball and Biscuit' with a shout out to "New York hip-hop" for some reason that I can't figure. Maybe it's one of those "in the moment" things, like he saw a Kurtis Blow shirt, or maybe even Kurtis Blow. Regardless, the song is cool.
The wait for the encore is unbearably long when listening to a streaming concert, an endless drone of "Whoo! Whoo! Jack White! Whoo!" before the drummer finally gets back behind the kit and White's guitar starts feeding back again. What will the encore bring -- any guesses?
If you had 'That Bat Black Licorice' on your bingo card, please come to the front. Marlene will validate your card, and then you can collect your velvet Elvis painting. Q-Tip joins White during the second verse, which seems like a better time for a New York hip-hop shout out. Let's just assume Q-Tip was shooting "you the man" finger guns at White from the wings earlier so that I can stop obsessing about his stage patter.
They cover 'Excursions' from A Tribe Called Quest, which is a nice surprise and pretty tasty. This is what encores should be used for: Do something weird, have a little fun, think of it as the after party. After that it's 'Sixteen Saltines' and 'Astro,' and the encore is officially 1/3 the length of the show and still cooking.
We hit a more traditional "time for the hits" encore moment with the Raconteurs cut 'Steady, As She Goes,' but you don't hear me complaining. It's a great cut, and the band does it justice.
'Would You Fight For My Love' brings the mood back down with its minor key and doleful violins, but then we're back up again with 'Just One Drink.' This set list is paced very well, almost like a boxer pounding your ribs, then stepping back long enough for you to catch your breath before he pummels you some more.
Sweet Meg's tambourine, 'Blunderbuss' marks the eight song in tonight's encore. Don't get me wrong: I love the song, and I like getting the most for my Jack White dollar, but I'm not a fan of the endless encore. My internal switch flips to "show's over" once the band steps off the stage. I'm good for maybe four songs after that, and then the band starts feeling like the party guest that wouldn't leave. My beer is empty -- I didn't plan for this many encores.
And it's false advertising, too. It's like bonus tracks on an album that was never issued without said bonus tracks. You can't just mark the last cut "bonus track" -- come on! If you're going to have a 30 song encore, just call it the show.
Finally, 'Seven Nation Army' rears its vicious head. Surely this is the big closer, right? Man, this still sounds as nasty as the day it was released.
I don't know if I've mentioned this yet, but White's stage band is tight. These guys sound really good. I'm looking for tour dates near me as we speak, hoping that I'll get the chance to physically experience what I've listened to tonight. Aside from being one of the most creative artists working in alternative music right now, White also is one of the most clever marketers. If I'm any indication, tonight's Pandora broadcast might be the best promotion that his current tour can ask for.
When it's all said and done, I don't have an hour shuffle to get out of the venue. I don't have an hour drive home, nor do I have to worry whether two beers was too many to drive home. On the other hand, I don't have a t-shirt, either. I enjoyed my evening with Pandora, but nothing beats the real thing.
If you want to experience the concert, Pandora is still replaying it in its entirety. Check it out here and crank it up!
Jack White -- New York City's Madison Square Garden
Jack White -- Set List, Jan. 30, 2015
'Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground'
'High Ball Stepper'
'Broken Boy Soldier'
'We're Going to Be Friends'
'Ball and Biscuit'
'That Black Bat Licorice' (With Q-Tip)
'Excursions' (With Q-Tip)
'Steady, As She Goes'
'Would You Fight for My Love?'
'Just One Drink'
'Seven Nation Army'
Watch Jack White Perform 'Steady, As She Goes' at Madison Square Garden