Former White Stripes frontman balances material from his more experimental recent solo output alongside classics from his past
Jack White is midway through his five-month Supply Chain Issues tour of North America and Europe when he plays two consecutive nights at Hammersmith Apollo. But considering White is releasing two albums on his own Third Man Records label this year – the hard-rocking Fear Of The Dawn in April and the more folky Entering Heaven Alive in July – the supply chain of music doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for him.
The prolific recording artist has now made 17 albums: six with The White Stripes, three each with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, and five solo. His more recent output intriguingly indicates a move away from the garage blues that made his name in favour of experimenting with other sounds, though it seems to be work in progress. But even if the results of this transitional phase are inconsistent, he remains a reliably charismatic live performer as shown tonight.
In a theatrical gesture, White and his band come on stage behind a curtain and we can make out their shadowy figures as they warm up furiously, building the suspense. Then the curtain rises to gradually reveal them performing on a platform before they launch into a dynamic set lasting one and three-quarter hours. White gives a high-voltage performance that suggests electricity not blood runs through his veins. He is ably backed by drummer Daru Jones, bassist Dominic John Davis and keyboardist Quincy McCrary, who create a tight, powerful sound that the front man uses as a launching pad.
Never one for understatement, White highlights his blues musical roots by dying his hair blue and wearing blue trousers, while playing a blue guitar on a blue platform with a blue curtain, as the stage is diffused with a blue light that lends a slightly surreal air to proceedings. This is enhanced by what looks like a statue of White with a guitar at the back of the set that sometimes glows an infernal red. The man himself certainly puts on a diabolically good show.
The set list contains elements from most parts of White’s career (there is nothing from The Dead Weather though they feature in other gigs, which notably vary from one night to the next). Unsurprisingly the new stuff is well represented, but – also unsurprisingly – the biggest number of songs comes from The White Stripes as of course these are what the fans want to hear the most. Although at times the noise is so intense it feels almost like an assault on the senses, there is enough variety with more melodic tunes and changes of pace to stop it becoming relentless.
The band open with an incendiary performance of recent single Taking Me Back followed without pause for breath by more guitar shredding and heavy riffing in the title track of Fear Of The Dawn. The new album’s Hi-De-Ho (with its melodramatic Spanish-style opening, recorded rapping from Q-Tip and a hip-hop beat) offers something different. If I Die Tomorrow, the only track played from Entering Heaven Alive, with its acoustic guitars, Mellotron backing and lilting melody, suggests the forthcoming album is going to be much more laid back than the high-velocity Fear Of The Dawn.
But, inevitably, it is the White Stripes’ material that most gets the crowd excited – and not just the most obvious tracks. Their eponymous first album’s Cannon is as full of explosive menace as its name suggests, while Hello Operator calls out with frustrated anger. White reaches for his falsetto in Blue Orchid and in Ball And Biscuit he stretches 12-bar blues to its max.
When the backing band come back ahead of White for the encores you half expect the statue glowing in the dark to spring to life and start playing like a demonic jack-in-the box. The encores begin with a frenzied version of Fell In Love With A Girl and finish – of course – with mash moshing for Seven Nation Army (accompanied by a video of an advancing tiger), as much an anthem in sports stadiums as music festivals these days.
White sings with passionate commitment, while his guitar solos sear and soar with primal feeling. Ever the exhibitionist, at one point he plays his guitar flat on the stage, and another time he plays guitar with one hand and piano with the other. Restlessly prowling around the stage, he gets the audience handclapping early on and encourages them to sing choruses, feeding off their energy.
As the blue curtain descends on the band at the end of the show, White yells, “Rock’n’roll will never die in England!” (a glowing tribute to the country where The White Stripes were first hailed as reviving rock music’s raw power). Normally, a thousand mobile cameras would be recording these scenes to share on social media – here, because of White’s no-phone policy, everyone lives in the moment.