The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Julian Marszalek , April 24th, 2012 17:08

Jack White doesn't just fire his mighty Blunderbuss at his much-anticipated London Forum gig - White Stripes songs are aired too, as Julian Marszalek discovers. Photographs by Valerio Berdini

To say that this, the debut London show from singer, guitarist, producer, label boss, borderline conceptual artist and all-round renaissance man Jack White, is the most anticipated gig the capital has seen in a long time is something of an understatement.

By 8.30pm, the streets leading up to The Forum are as good as empty, while the pubs that were doing a brisk trade less than 60 minutes earlier may as well be throwing down their shutters. Even the scuttling parasites that make up the touting trade have called it a night. The ticket holders are refusing to sell and they're already inside the heaving venue.

"This is gonna fucking explode!" gushes one punter who looks to the Quietus as if he's about to combust himself. Grinning from ear to ear and rocking from one foot to another like the dancing chickens that Colonel Tom Parker placed on hot trays in his pre-Elvis carnival days, his enthusiasm is certainly contagious.

In the five years since his former band, The White Stripes, released their final studio album on the shape of the rollicking Icky Thump, White has lent his talents across a variety of projects with varying degrees of success. The two albums by The Raconteurs saw the guitarist take the uneasy guise of band member rather than the his default setting of masterful svengali while his position of tubthumper for The Dead Weather failed to convince when what was really called for was Jack White throttling a guitar to within an inch of its life. So here he is, at last, ready to take centre stage once more to pinch those squalling notes in the glare of the spotlight.

With his debut solo album, Blunderbuss, attracting thematic comparisons to Dylan's Blood On The Tracks and, at a push, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that White is keen to draw a line in the sand where his past is concerned yet here he is dropping The White Stripes' 'Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground' as his opening salvo. Moreover, it sounds bigger, fresher and more exciting than it ever did, as The White Stripe's almost two-dimensional approach is fleshed out into something more panoramic with the assistance of a six-piece female band spread across keyboards, backing vocals, pedal steel guitar, bass and drums. The thought flashes across the mind that perhaps he's shedding skin here as prepares to cross from one lifetime to another, but as evidenced by a salacious version of 'Ball And Biscuit' and roots readings of 'Hotel Yorba' and 'We Are Going To Be Friends', White has no reason to deny his past.

Nor, for that matter, his present as the delicately strummed guitar and shimmering piano of 'Love Interruption' are greeted the kind of warmth and affection usually reserved for long absent friends and relatives. A highlight of Blunderbuss, it here holds its head high against anything that White's offered us before. Indeed, though seemingly offering a glimpse into this enigmatic figure's life, White's new material is a more rounded, fleshed out vision of what's previously been on offer. It's hard to imagine his previous outfit creating the skittering 'Missing Pieces', while 'Freedom At 21''s nervous beats and circular riffing proves an early highlight.

Not that White limits himself to his solo material and The White Stripes. Both The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather are given a look-in but perhaps the biggest surprise is the appearance of the hypnotic 'Two Against One' from last year's Rome album by Danger Mouse and Daniele Lupi. It's as if White is making a land grab on everything he's involved himself in, and throughout tonight's performance he resembles a general as he marshals his band through his body of work.

With the stage bathed in the powder blue that became his brand for this campaign – even his roadies have made sartorial concessions to blend in with the colour scheme – White cuts a singular figure. Dressed from head to toe in black, his alabaster face toned with black eye make-up, White is very much the central figure here. Though eliciting unholy howls and powerfully fuzzed chords from his succession of guitars, he takes time to interact with his fellow musicians as he draws out the best in them. But at times it becomes difficult to shake the feeling that he'd sooner play all the instruments himself at the same time.

As a statement of intent, tonight's performance is unmistakeable. This is a formidable return to the stage on entirely his terms. Even though he finds himself drawn to his drummer as 'Seven Nation Army' comes to a close, White knows as much as his audience that all eyes are now on him. The possibility that the route he's now taking is set to eclipse everything that he's done before is frighteningly real.