Now I like to give Edinburgh a hard time. I'm from the West and it just runs in my veins but truth be told, it's a nice town. I ended up in the capital myself on the 21st of October for the Jack White gig at the Usher Hall. First time at the venue, and first time seeing Mr. White live despite being a fan for a while. I might need to issue a bit of a warning here before I get nugs deep into the review. This might be a long one. See Jack White is one of my favourite guitarists. Not to say that The White Stripes or The Raconteurs are my favourite bands. It's that I feel the man in question just can't help but rock. So this might be half review, half opinion piece, half Fudd-Feed top 10 reasons list article thing. But as I was saying...
Arriving at the Usher Hall for the first time I was impressed. It's a decent sized venue. Two balconies and a floor space that's probably similar to the Academy in Glasgow. A theatre turned venue rather than old dancehall or picture house that are more common. But it wasn't only the size of the place, everything is painted white and gilded to within an inch of it's life. Is that an Edinburgh thing? Do people in the East only go to gigs if the venue could be melted down and smuggled? Well it's a nice place anyway. And it wasn't too long before the white and gold was bathed in a healthy purple glow for the support to take the stage.
On stoat Demob Happy. The kind of band that fit right in on a Jack White support slot. These guys are a proper dirty blues band. Not that I would limit them to that sort of blues genre-bubble though. A lot of their tunes blurred the line between modern blues and classic grunge. At times their vocal melodies and harmonies were even Beatles like. It's a good combination and I liked seeing the crowd getting behind them. I suppose the band appreciated that more than I did of course. Demob Happy themselves are hard at work promoting their most recent release "Holy Doom" which I'll be checking out.
There is one thing in particular that surprised me about this band. And that thing is how large they sounded for a three piece. The lead vocalist and bassist is the lang bendy leggit Mathew Marcantonio. Who even between songs couldn't help but groove and swing himself around his bass. Beside him up front was Adam Godfrey on guitar. An axeman with a very heavy right hand, probably a contributing factor to the huge sound they have. Behind them on the kit was Thomas Armstrong. An absolutely frantic drummer and vocalist. He's a very noticeable drummer. Always up and down, swinging his sticks, all while singing backing and lead vocals. I'm very impressed with his performance and ability. I wouldn't want to tell him anything other than that though, he had a look on his face that said he could launch a drumstick square into my eyes from twenty meters away and not even miss a beat.
Demob Happy are an absolute sonic assault live, I'll be trying to see them again. Hopefully they come to a decent city like Glasgow or Largs next time though.
People who aren't fans of Jack White may not realise the importance that colour and image play in his gigs, promotional material, videos and general existence as a whole. Where the White Stripes used red and white on stage and in artwork nearly exclusively, his solo career revolves around black, blue and wee bits of white. So everything on stage is in this colour combination. As is everything Mr. White and his band wear. That goes for their hair also. Not only is everything colour matched on stage, but the backstage team work in a similar fashion. When I say "fashion" I really mean it. The crew for this gig were all dressed in buttons, waistcoats, ties and wee trilby hats. It's like stepping into a jazz age night club with a very small decorating budget. Personally, and this isn't always a popular opinion...but I don't like this look. I have a deep rooted disdain for formal wear. Ties especially. I feel the whole suit up gimmick is done to death, and the only people who expect you to dress like that often act like you're not good enough unless you wear buttons and a tie. However I will grant the crew three positive points on this front:
FIRSTLY- It isn't a formal situation. There's no corporate management concerned with conformity and social convention. So can I fault them on that point? Probably yes but I can overlook it.
B- It fit in with the show. Like I mentioned, colour and image are a huge part of Whites public image and persona. And all the crew looked like a part of the black and blue bruised jazz club staff the band were playing in.
POINT THE THIRD- It makes a difference from cargo shorts and rigging boots.
I hope you will allow me one more point before I actually mention the performance. And I hope you do, I did warn you it could be a lengthy piece. My point here is that I'm a musician not a journalist and for that reason I'm going to talk about Jacks guitars because oh my. Oh absolutely my what an arsenal he had on stage with him. He has six axes laid out in front of his amps. The six being two EVH Wolfgang models (one in blue one in black), a stunning Gibson Firebird, a Music Man St Vincent, a Kay archtop (if you've heard "Seven Nation Army" you've heard this guitar) and finally thee single most beautiful acoustic guitar I've ever seen. A Gretsch rancher. Finished in pristine white with sparkling gold hardware (matching the venue funnily enough) and inlayed around the edges and back with swirling gold patterns and a portrait of Veronica Lake on the back. Truly a stunning piece of guitar and I'm in love with her. I do have another reason for bringing this up. As they were all laid out ( practically begging me to come and rub my dirty, calloused, bass playing fingers all over them) I thought it would make a nice wee photo. However I couldn't get one. On the way in I was tricked into locking my phone into a wee pouch that could only be opened with a special wee tool that the front of house staff held. Some folk were quick enough to deny their phones existence but I heard that if you get caught on your phone during the gig you get locked in a room full of people saying "PRINCES STREET, WAVERLY, HARVEY NICKS EH? LIKE, KNOW WHAT I MEAN HIBS EH, LIKE MURRAYFIELD EH?" and frankly I wasn't going to risk that. This is the second phoneless show I've been to this year and I'm not totally against the practice. It rattles my cage a wee bit when I see people on facebook during a bands set, it hassles my hoff when I see someone live streaming during a show, and it irks my gherkin when I can't see the stage for a sideways iphone. Saying that, I do like to take a couple of pictures myself during gigs. I have some great ones from Maiden shows, and some blurry mid jump snaps from CJ Ramone and the likes. I like to go back and look at them, I like to sort and organise them because everything else in my life is a mess. So overall I'm not sure I fully support phoneless shows. Especially one where your device is held hostage but still on your person. Having your phone on you but locked in a wee pouch is like being given a handful of loose milk. It just makes you irate.
BUT I should get round to giving you that review of the gig eh, well I'll begin.
The band take the stage first, a four piece consisting of two keys/synth players, a bassist and a drummer on a rationally sized kit. They go at it hard and fast for the intro, each member doing their wee flourishes but never going overboard while we wait for Jack. And out he comes. To thunderous applause and screams to rival that of a banshee. The boy knows how to make an entrance. He comes out gubbing wine from the bottle (he would later use the same open bottle to play a slide solo, very well played I might add), standing triumphantly on the speaker cabinets less than two meters away from me shouting back into the crowd. No idea what he was shouting, but I was buzzed for what was to come.
What came first was "Over and Over and Over" from his most recent album "Boarding House Reach". A very energetic tune with plenty of room for audience participation on the chorus sections. Then came the White Stripes material for a spell, "When I Hear My Name" and "Little Bird" first of all. All very well received. It was only a few tunes in before my mind was blown by Jack and the band. I was already impressed, but then I realised the show was fairly free form. Now a lot of artists pick and choose their setlists as they go, and there was a certain amount of that happening. But then I realised the songs weren't all being played exactly to a metronome/backing track standard. At points the main man was communicating to the drummer with hand signals, and the rest of the band was watching her. Jack would raise one finger and this meant "hold on I'm doing this bit myself", or he would stick a flat hand out and this meant "that's me done doing this bit myself". And no one in the band ever dropped a beat or missed a cue. It was absolutely amazing to watch as a musician. That standard of playing ability and adaptability can be an absolute holy grail find even if it's only one musician in the band but there were four of them playing behind him. I have nothing but adoration for these four as performers and musicians.
It was Carla Azar on the kit for the evening. Fans of Jack White may recognise her, as will those who have seen the film Frank starring yer man Michael Fassbender. She's something else. I've never seen a drummer who is so manic but so precise. While she was playing she was swinging her sticks around like mad, not even looking at the kit, but the playing was so tight. Imagine if Phil Taylor could play like Neil Peart but still acted like Phil Taylor. That's what she's like as a drummer. The ideal person to play Meg White's parts as well as being a solid foundation for the band.
Dominic Davis rocks the four string in this outfit. As a bassist myself I'm allowed to state this as fact not opinion, he's damn good. Throughout the show he was hunching himself over and just letting the funk drip out of his fingers by the bucket load. Just as with all of the band members his playing was incredibly precise. Every note he plays goes where he wants it to go. Like how a wizard is never early or late, neither is a Dominic Davis bassline. There were a number of tunes throughout the set (during "Lazaretto" in particular) in which he switched to something I'm going to call his "Special Setting". His "Special Setting" adds a wee bit of fuzz to the tone and octave pedal along side some other pedal or amp magic fuckery. And I'd bet my middle bollock he was playing this setting through that famous Jazz bass bridge pickup. This tone could blow down a brick shithouse. I can still hear it. In fact I'm surprised I'm writing this right now and not sitting with my pedals and amp trying to recreate it for my own band. If I were wearing a wee pork pie hat to fit in with the crew, I'd take it off to him.
I dare say not everyone gets to hear all the songs they want to hear at a Jack White gig. I mean he played with the White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and now he has three full length studio solo albums. That's a lot of material to pick from, and each one has its own unique qualities and differences from the last. But we did get wee bits from it all. We got the solo material from all three of his albums, as well as good range of White Stripes tunes. "Icky Thump", "My Doorbell", "Black Math" and hitting the big finish with "Seven Nation Army" using that Kay archtop guitar I mentioned earlier. We were even treated to "Steady As She Goes" during the encore and " I Cut Like A Buffalo" just before it. The only Raconteurs and Dead Weather (respectively) tunes in this set. For the latter tune White dragged the three members of Demob Happy on stage to play it with him. The three of them played very well, but it did seem quite spontaneous. I'm not sure if this is a common feature of his gigs or not but if it isn't, fair play to Demob for doing so well. The biggest surprise of the set, for me, was "Hotel Yorba". On the album the track only feature one acoustic guitar ontop of the drums. So compared to the rest of the set it was bound to stick out. However it wasn't just played as it is on the track. One of the key players swapped to an upright piano as Jack picked up that white and gold Gretsch acoustic I gushed over earlier. And as he was finishing his southern preacher impression the band launched into a rock 'n' roller meets church band arrangement of the song. It got a serious pop from me, and I'll hear it every time I listen to the studio version in the future.
By the time the show was over the band and Jack had worked incredibly hard. They had performed a fourteen song set. So I was expecting a two or three song encore, that's about standard for a headline set. After all Iron Maiden will typically do sixteen, Metallica seem to do about the same. Not oor Jack. A twelve song encore. Twelve of the bastards. It was less of an encore more of a half time break. You have to admire a world famous musician that still works hard for his fans and for his paycheck.
So I said it would be a long one and even after editing it still is. But honestly the world needs to know how I feel about Jack white and how much I loved this gig. A serious gig of the year candidate. I'm still not sold on the phoneless show format though, and as much as I hate to admit it...Edinburgh is a cracking day out. Ken, if you really have to go.