I’m going to say the unthinkable: I wish Jack White wasn’t in the Dead Weather. I know that’s blasphemous, not to mention illogical; if the band was White-free, no one, myself included, would have heard of them. Live though, his presence is simply distracting.
Let me explain.
I’m as big a Jack White fan as they come. I’ve seen the White Stripes live four times (reviews here, here, and here) and the Raconteurs the same (reviews here, here, here, and here). In both groups he is the undisputed star of the show. Sure, he technically shares frontman duties with Brendan Benson in the Racs, but no one’s watching Benson. White’s stage presence is so commanding that even when he’s merely playing guitar in the background for a song or two, you can’t look away. All you want to do is watch Jack.
The same is true in the Dead Weather, and therein lies the problem. 90% of the crowd was there to see Jack White, Rock God. As a drummer though, there isn’t much to see. He’s perfectly talented at the instrument, clearly taking his cues from the fill-heavy style of Raconteurs drummer Patrick Keeler, but any band’s drummer is never all that much fun to watch. Yet through no fault of his own (in fact, to his credit), all eyes were on him as he…sat there drumming. It took a force of will to tell yourself, “hey, look at the other performers.” Jack White (dare I say it) is boring.
The moment one remembered to pay attention to the rest of the group – Alison Mosshart of the Kills, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Jack Lawrence of the Racs – the show exploded. As rock groups go, they don’t get much better, which is why it’s a shame Jack White overshadows the others by his mere existence. At Terminal 5 Mosshart prowled the stage like a feral cat, her shaggy hair covering her face as she twisted and jerked behind the mic stand. Her every movement emoted leather-clad punk like a young Patti Smith. She climbed on an amp to illustrate set opener “60 Feet Tall” and leant into the audience to lead – no, demand – participation for “So Far From Your Weapon.” She lit the only-pretty-good songs (of which these guys have many) on fire, drawing the eye even when the sonic pummeling sounded like an enthusiastic-but-uninspired high school punk band.
The guitarists thumped along gamely behind her. Lawrence lay down rumbling bass lines that threw a pinch of funk flavor in the garage-blues roar. Fertita, meanwhile, proved no slouch on guitar himself, riffing loudly and forcefully with more control than White could show to save his life. In fact, as a drummer Jack proved as frantic as he is a guitarist. The concept of “tight” is not in this drummer’s arsenal, but his raw pounding provided the distinctive backbeat for this sloppy blues. He slammed out on-again off-again rhythms in “Hang You Up From the Heavens” and proved able to handle the tricky singing-while-drumming combo in knock-out encore combo “Treat Me Like Your Mother” and “New Pony.”
His desire to sing makes me wonder about the future of this outfit though. For much of the show Jack seemed itchy, getting up from the kit between song and wandering around idly. Jack has “frontman” in his DNA and seemed a bit frustrated remaining in the background. He had two opportunities to sing up front and they seemed to prove the high points for him as much as they did for the audience. A brief solo turn at the stage-center mic for Them cover “You Can Never Win” gave the audience a little taste of what they wanted to see and when he finally picked up a guitar for “Will There Be Enough Water” the crowd seemed in danger of collective cardiac arrest.
He didn’t disappoint in this latter role, staccato-soloing all over the stage for the breaks between verses of this White-Mosshart duet. It was a glimpse of the Jack White the crowd loved, and it seems no stretch to surmise that his jerking and thrashing around behind his axe proved the climactic moment of the set for everyone there. At the same time, it just exacerbated the problem the foursome struggled with the whole evening. When Jack went back behind the drums for the encore the crowd breathed a silent sight of disappointment. He had whet their appetite, only to retreat. Talented though the other three unquestionably are, it’s hard to see the glass as half full when you know what Jack could be doing.
Like any so-called supergroup where one member is way more “super” than the others, the Dead Weather suffer from dynamic confusion. In everyone’s mind but theirs this group has two frontmen. The problem is that one doesn’t do much. Mosshart commands as much attention as anyone could under the circumstances, but when you’ve got the savior of modern music sitting on stage with you, there’s only so much a gal can do. When said savior seems just as frustrated with remaining in the background as the audience, you wind up with a musical Jenga tower. You have to wonder how many shows they have in them before the whole thing tumbles down.
Take away the trailing “s” in Screaming Females, and these openers would have one of the most accurate monikers in music. There’s only one female in this power trio, but she does do a lot of screaming. A tiny thing with a my-mom-did-it second grade haircut, Marrissa Paternoster played up here innocent pixie image in a dress that looked straight out of your local Amish market. No one in the crowd expected that goth-vibrato howl to come out of someone so petite, much less such windmill-tastic guitar-shredding. A lot of groups consciously try to ape Jimi Hendrix and his Experience, but the Females do so without even trying. The boys in the band providing a jerky, rolling backdrop that kept pace just enough to tell Paternoster, “Go wild.” She happily obliged.
60 Feet Tall
Hang You Up From The Heavens
You Just Can't Win (Them cover)
So Far From Your Weapon
I Cut Like A Buffalo
Child of a Few Hours Is Burning To Death (West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band cover)
No Hassle Night
Will There Be Enough Water?
Forever My Queen (Pentagram cover)
Treat Me Like Your Mother
New Pony (Bob Dylan cover)