With the opening chords of “Fell in Love with a Girl,” Jack White took to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium stage on Friday night at what seemed like 100 miles per hour at staggering volume…with little interest in ever applying the brake. In fact, the stage curtains had barely parted before White was already off and running, racing side-to-side, delivering the blazing garage riff from the 2002 cut that officially put the White Stripes on the map.
Over the course of 24 songs, beneath unchanging pale blue lights, White’s full throttle performance spanned two hours and showcased the many facets of his already prolific career. There were White Stripes obscurities, Raconteurs hits, and current solo tracks all interwoven for an enthusiastic crowd that was as diverse as the material itself.
Sporting suspenders and a sharp haircut, White looked like his cameo incarnation of a young (and wonderfully drug-addled) Elvis Presley in the 2007 satire Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. And if he looked good, he certainly seemed to be feeling good as well, all smiles and upbeat energy from a guy that can be known to display his share of edgy stage persona.
Musically, White was at his best on Friday night when he applied his deft five-piece band towards creating nuanced versions of his best-known songs. “Hotel Yorba” was a prime example, delivered as a gleeful country honkey tonk, and rounded out by his fiddle player to glorious effect. “We’re Going To Be Friends” and “Apple Blossom” fell into this category as well, though these more subtle numbers were wholly outnumbered throughout the night by high-octane tracks (like “Top Yourself” and “Screwdriver”) that were zealously rendered through the Civic’s blaring house speakers. Of course, it was a large venue hosting a big show for a capacity crowd on a Friday night, and the ushers – constantly scrambling to keep pockets of drunken dancers out of the aisles – were likely the only ones in attendance pining for more down tempo numbers.
Somewhere amid the revved-up guitar drama of “Ball and a Biscuit,” White stumbled at the front of the stage and (as we learned via Twitter the following day) sprained his ankle. Rather than slowing down, he used the grounding as an opportunity to launch into a Prince-like guitar solo while lying flat on his back. He then returned shortly after, seemingly unfazed, to deliver a half-dozen songs during a high-energy, crowd-pleasing encore that included “Steady as She Goes,” “High Ball Stepper,” and “Seven Nation Army.” (Apparently his second scheduled performance at the Civic, the following night, was very close to being cancelled on account of his injury.)
Yet for as good as the encore was, the highlight of the evening had come earlier in the form of an entirely menacing rendering of “Cannon,” from the garage masterpiece that is the White Stripes’ self-titled debut album. It was a performance that successfully fused a nuanced arrangement together with White’s inclination for sheer volume, as he steadily built on the song’s heavy riff before deviating into an off-the-cuff medley with “Little Room,” the 50-second song off of White Blood Cells that quickly-but-eloquently considers the artistic creative pitfalls of making it really big.
Not only was it a dynamic moment in the concert, but the song has always seemed increasingly relevant to White himself as he matures into new and ever more popular phases of his career. Watching him perform at the Civic on Friday, White’s approach to the “Little Room” dilemma was readily on display all night long. Sprained ankle or otherwise, the guy’s approach is to crank it up to 11 and just charge full speed ahead.
– Two-thirds the way into the show on Friday the house lights came up in the back of the auditorium (opposite the stage) and stayed on for the rest of the night.
– Over the course of his two S.F. shows, Jack covered the likes of Beck (“Devil’s Haircut”), Hank Williams (“You Know that I Know”) and Jimi Hendrix (“Manic Depression”)
– Jack dedicated a song to the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, covering cLOUDDEAD’s “Dead Dogs Two”
– Can someone in a position of authority at Another Planet Entertainment please tell security at the entrance to the Civic to take it down a notch? What business screams at its customers as they walk through the front door?