Whether or not rock ‘n’ roll needs a cheerleader, it certainly has one in Jack White. From days of the White Stripes to collaborations with luminaries like Loretta Lynn and bands like the Dead Weather and Raconteurs to his own solo material there’s a constellation of work that values the history and power of the art. There’s that and the fact that he, literally, pumps up a crowd like few I’ve witnessed. As a case in point, take the packed house at The Anthem Saturday night.
Much has been said about the recent trend in “phone-free” shows. And being a couple of months older than Jack White himself, I remember tons of shows before cell phones where there was just my own memory of the music and perhaps a 7” I’d pick up after the show from the merch table. Admittedly, there was a bit of apprehension at leaving my cell phone in the green and gray Yondr pouch provided as I went into The Anthem on Aug. 17, but it was nice not seeing a sea of screens competing with the spectacle that soon ensued. More about that in a moment.
On the heels of their first LP in 10 years and first tour in even longer, the two principal songwriters of the Raconteurs, Jack White and Brendan Benson, got together and wrote the songs that became Help Us Strangers (released on Jack White’s own Third Man Records in June). A pretty strong return with singles like “Help Me Stranger” and beautiful Beatlesque harmonies like on “Shine the Light on Me,” I couldn’t wait to see how these new songs would translate to a live setting.
Stream Help Us Stranger by Raconteurs on Spotify:
Well, as luck would have it, I didn’t have long to find out as back at The Anthem to the thumping washes of strings over the PA and the red strobe lights from the back of the stage, drummer Patrick Keeler’s thundering drums lit up, accented by the sound of horns before Jack, Brendan, along with fellow Greenhornes bassist Jack Lawrence, and multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita (also of the Dead Weather), took the stage to huge applause leading into the opening notes of “Consolers of the Lonely” with Brendan taking the lead while Jack banged out one blistering line after another. The strobes made the smoke look like the stage like it was on fire while Jack slid back and forth from the drum risers to the microphone — and at one point, grabbing the microphone while reaching out over the crowd and pulling the mic stand with him.
From there the energy meter only went higher! As Jack walked to the edge of the stage again to get the crowd clapping along to “Top Yourself” the audience sang along, “How you gonna top yourself.” That spread with a more up-tempo version of “Level” to Jack playing the preacher as he got the crowd the respond to his call of “Can you say radio? Can you say rock and roll? Can you say in your soul?” before launching into the single, “Help Me Stranger.”
With a few “quieter” exceptions like Jack taking over the keys in “You Don’t Understand Me” and the Brendan Benson acoustic number, “Only Child,” this was a roller coaster of one manic energy-filled number after another with some unexpected treats as “Don’t Bother Me” became the anthemic “Gloria” by Van Morrison and that seemed to flow into the next song. Hardly a breath in between.
It wasn’t until the band announced that this was going to be the last song did it feel like it was all too short. Fortunately, that feeling was short lived as Patrick came out with Brendan, who joked as he brought out his harmonica, that it would just be drums and harmonica for the whole encore. But through the super cool flashing lights that seemed to magically start off from the drum kit, the rest of the band joined the duo to play the Donovan song, “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness).”
And, if that wasn’t enough, right before the end, a guy hopped the barricade dressed in all white to dance on stage before security literally waltzed him away hand-in-hand. And with the last song of the night, “Steady as She Goes,” the band capped a performance that felt special — something that felt new and nostalgic at the same time.
The Raconteurs continue their tour through the Fall. Definitely check them out here.
The setlist included:
Consoler of the Lonely
Bored and Razed
You Don’t Understand Me
Help Me Stranger
Don’t Bother Me (along with Gloria)
Now That You’re Gone
Shine the Light on Me
Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)
Salute Your Solution
Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)
Steady, as She Goes