Lollapalooza 2012: Jack White / by Doyle Armbrust

There was a time when the words "Fiji Mermaid" or "Lobster Boy" painted on the side of a canvas tent would send chills up the vertebrae, and entry would produce gasps and the need for smelling salts. It's a brand of wonderment that's time has come and gone. The often self-embellished narrative of Jack White, and the aesthetic scrupulousness with which he drapes himself, his shows and his albums, stems from this kind of augmented reality. The black and blue palette of his first solo record, Blunderbuss, and the tour's gear and constuming is a study in semiotics. If anything, it draws the listener in deeper, creating a kind of synaesthetic fort, and Sunday's headlining set was just one stop short of the Kentucky Fried Movie Feel-A-Round experience.

We were first treated to the male cast (The Buzzards) of the Jack White solo tour (two gender-specific bands are in tow), which pummeled out "Sixteen Saltines" behind the provocative fretwork of their band leader. Staccato lyrics set the architecture for "Missing Pieces" around which Rhodes funkdowns and White's solarized guitar licks flourished. Jack was later at the piano, hammering the keys with the most twisted hand positions I've ever seen, but an effective resultant sound transitioning into a kind of perverse surf guitar riff.

The two-band format may come across as excessively eccentric to some, but there's no denying the energy on stage as the Lolla-closing set lacked the road-weariness so pervasive with bands by this stage of the festival/touring season. The band flipped to the all-female Peacocks midway through, initiated by the entrance of Nashville singer-songwriter Ruby Amanfu. For the best lyrics of the night, White shared a mic up close and personal with Amanfu, delivering "Love Interruption" nuggets like, "I want love to grab my fingers gently / Slam them in a doorway / Put my face into the ground." A mic malfunction allowed us an impromptu instrumental jam session during "Steady As She Goes." "We're going to figure some things out," joked White, "To make sure we're all on the same level." It was one of the very few words heard from the stage. The set resembled a Willie Nelson, one-song-immediately-follows-the-last equation.

The only true bauble of the night arrived at the least expected juncture: soccer stadium favorite "Seven Nation Army," in which the band's aural choreography sounded uncharacteristically diffuse. Given the unflappable execution on this veritable cross-section of White's career (White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather), it was a blip on a very large, very black & blue screen.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in the Time Out Chicago Audio File Blog on August 6th, 2012