Saturday, October 9, 2010
Friday, October 1, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
You can never really have too much of a good thing, or can you? I’ve spoken at length about the adrenaline soaked bashers of mindless fury and I’m running out of adjectives. I’ve claimed each one takes it a step up from the last and I’ll do the same again because Slicker Drips really does take the cake for the most vicious assault of noise. Time signatures aren’t constant, verses and choruses aren’t present and if that guitar breakdown fits into any type of conventional classification of a solo then I will eat my own hat (or that cool new one Jack has been seen in a lot lately). So is it good? Oh yeah, guess you can’t have too much of a good thing.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
So the House Of Blues show (the second last I believed) shows Jack and Meg in the most rebellious of moods, playing some truly obscure songs and rarely staying on one track for it’s full duration. But the clincher of the concert came towards the end when he decided to rewrite one of their biggest hits on the spot and make a momentary anthem against the dullness of celebrity. It starts off as a slowed down blues number with some of the most flawless vocals the man has provided while Meg, in a way she could only do, slowly catches on to his train of thought. The petulant child of the original lyrics has grown up into a man disgusted with what he sees before him and Jack delivers his rant which is met by a decidedly supportive series of cries and boos by the crowd.
The new verse is as follows:
Oh, that’s how it goes
In the name of her/hurt
Like (?) no one knows
Just what they’re supposed to do
Only what there told to do
Oh yeah, just what your told to do
Wear gym pants and shirt and suit to the zoo
Now we know this
And I can show you this
Now we know this
Just like to make a point (?)
Catch up, catch up
Wake up, wake up
Wake up, before you throw up!
Wise words, from a wise man…
If that was a bit of a wank forgive me, but please download this fucking thing, it’s great and once your convinced download the entire show, because they’re at this caliber all night.
Friday, July 16, 2010
My first pick is from my favourite year of touring, 2005. The main focus of Jack's guitar playing in It Might Get Loud was his belief that it's all about the struggle and no other performance illustrates this more beautifully then this version of Ball & Biscuit. Previously in the concert Jack had attempted the song but had abandoned it for My Doorbell however after endlessly tuning it (unfortunately left out of the mp3) he kicks into the song in full blast. Jack's guitar playing is like him taming a beast and that's true of most of his songs but this is the only one I've heard where it sounds like the beast might actually win. The guitar constantly fights back, clanging and clanking, going out of tune and cutting out. But it's Jack persistence that makes it so inspired and after dragging his inglorious piece of plastic back under his control he strums the shit out of it until the songs end, emerging victorious at last.
If you like this (and frankly you must) then I'd definitely recommend downloading this entire show which is in the same messily inspired vein and in beautiful satellite radio sound quality.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
In many years from now when someone asks me about my record collection and what records I truly love I’ll choose Jack White. But I’ll skip past White Blood Cells and Elephant, give Broken Boy Soldiers a miss and leave Horehound behind, instead I’ll pick out Third Man Records Single Releases 2009 because it is a divine celebration of music. The concept is beautiful, truly moving, different artists of a more then just a diverse nature come together, centralised around this one nurturing institution in Nashville. It’s not about personal tastes, would I buy a Transit record? Hell no but how can you ignore people singing with such conviction about the NTA. It’s not about virtuosity because Mildred can’t sing or play to save her life. It’s not even about originality seeing as Fly Farm Blues could’ve been written 100 years ago. What this LP represents is community, a fertile collection of musical pursuits and celebrations. It wasn’t just the dawn that was glorious after all.
The Dead Weather, who dominate the collection, perfectly encapsulate this ethos. They are band that really shouldn’t exist from a commercial or careerist perspective, yet they do because they feel they have to, the music drives them above anything else. Listen to the unprecedented inventiveness of I Cut Like A Buffalo, the unrestrained passion of You Just Can’t Win or the amazing interactions of talented musicians on A Child Of A Few Hours. You can’t ignore them but their trademark dirty blues is exclusive to them on the album and a wide range of genres are explored.
The talent is in no short supply as seen in the infectious Rachelle Garniez single. She didn’t need a b-side because her vocal range on one song is enough to fill an LP, a vocal range that elevates a lovely pop song into something more special. Similarly Dan Sartain’s irrepressible groove at first seems standard but there’s something ‘off’ about it that you can’t quite put your finger on and it makes the song all the more endearing.
The weirdness isn’t always subtle though. I doubt A Glorious Dawn’s quirkiness will ever be surpassed by another Third Man Release yet the sentiment seems sincere and it’s a perfect snapshot of the esoteric approach Carl Sagan took to our existence, making us observe with child-like wonder. Of course Mildred & The Mice are just silly. There is absolutely no great musicianship on display nor is there any song writing chops, instead Mildred just shouts her way through the record putting forth so much bravado that you can’t really do anything but like her. But Transit take the cake for the biggest, for lack of a better term, ‘what the fuck?’ moment. They appeal to mainstream tastes more then any other band on the album but the repeated shouts of ‘NTA’ really catch you off guard.
Of course Jack gets to produce his idols creating a flawless 45 with proto-Jack himself Dex Romweber. It’s the best single of the lot and you can’t help but squirm at the synergy as Jack and Dex trade howls on Last Kind Word Blues, like the most demented father and son duo imaginable. But most importantly it proves Jack’s tireless thesis that the blues will never get old. An even greater blast from the past is the triumphant return of Wanda Jackson who really get’s the entire Third Man treatment, complete with squealing solos and Memphis horns. Her vitriolic howl on You Know I’m No Good makes Amy Winehouse seem tame.
And most importantly it does the work of any self-respecting indie label, launching some younger bands. They are the shakiest for sure but they still show some great potential. The ethereal harmony of the Smoke Fairies is not everyone’s cup of tea yet they manage to convey an amazing amount of mystique for such a new act. The Black Belles certainly don’t break any new boundaries yet you cannot deny the hooks they possess. Indeed if What Can I Do? had been 40 years ago it would be the next Dead Weather B-side.
In the end it’s BP Fallon who says it best. His simple blues I Believe In Elvis Presley serves as both a celebration and a warning about placing our musical heroes in a divine canon. I’ll choose to ignore his warning: I Believe In Jack White and I Believe In Third Man Records.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Unfortunately we must take a further break from our regular scheduling as I am swept up in Under Great White Northern Lights mania. The question that this album poses to all White Stripes fans is, how can a single disc be a definitive statement about the band as a live act. As great as their studio output is, The Stripes’ most notorious outlet is their stage show and as a band that boasts a customized experience for each show trying to get it all across in 16 tracks is surely impossible. Luckily UGWNL knows this and doesn’t attempt to emulate an entire concert merely throwing together tour highlights into one great compilation album. The effect is far from jarring and its honest intentions are what make the album so endearing.
The album unsurprisingly starts with the bagpipes intro of Let’s Shake Hands that opened their tenth anniversary show. It might be because I’ve heard this track, as in this specific performance, many times already but this is probably the least revelatory moment of the track list. It’s a great song and a strong rendition but it feels like catch up for casual fans who are unaware of exactly what the White Stripes do as a live act. The excitement really starts with Black Math, where we are forced to ask ourselves the usual question: does this guy really abstain from drugs? After the familiar bashes and fret-burning solo we’re treated with a rearranged ending with stop-start styling.
After it’s more then generous treatment in 2005/2006 we are not treated to much Get Behind Me Satan, which is a shame but the next two tracks certainly make up for it. Little Ghost wasn’t the most likely choice but it contrasts well with the pounding Black Math. If you have seen the film, the intimacy of this song is abundantly clear with Jack and Meg dueting eye to eye for the whole song. Blue Orchid is surprisingly strong, it’s falsetto vocals and rich guitar tones often posing problems live. This performance is a cut above the rest with a wailing guitar crescendo towards the end that climaxes in the signature riff. Considering how rigid the original was it’s interesting to see how it benefits from being treated as a loose structure to improvise with.
Rescued from possible obscurity, The Union Forever wins the award for most gallant underdog choice. An amazing song in any incarnation, Jack fully immerses himself in the more melodramatic moments and faithfully uses the loud-soft dynamics that the song relies on. The eerie organ finish transposes Orson Welles to a 50s B movie with magnificent results. Stranger still is the 3 minute Ball & Biscuit, with the organ based refrain seemingly there just to justify the title. After that it’s brilliant blues medleys and classic squeal solos rendering the song virtually unrecognizable.
Current single Icky Thump receives a strong treatment but it’s a mystery why the first verse is cut out. Like the rest of the album the strength here is to suspend faithfulness to the recording, extending verses to engage the audience and play around with dynamics. Similarly the sing along rendition of I’m Slowly Turning Into You unexpectedly turns into a jazzy swing by the end later to be brought back to a multi-octave crescendo (for both guitar and voice). The album being toured is far from being bombarded upon us but it is certainly well represented and proof that the Stripes are running out of steam on stage or in the studio.
By contrast, live staple Jolene sounds equally strong. You really have to question how necessary the damn thing is, I mean not only was it on Blackpool Lights but it was also a single that received generous airplay. However once you listen to it you remember the genius of the performance, the melodrama is crippling and no other song really gets a more committed vocal performance out of Jack.
300 MPH etc. is the second contender for best underdog song pick. It’s one of the best tracks off Icky Thump and live it’s an entirely different, yet equally good, beast. The guitar subtleties of the album version have been erased and instead Jack relies on weaving his Dylanesque poetry to the audience climaxing in the harrowing screams of the title. This rendition isn’t exactly as grand as the Tenth Anniversary one but I’d rather have both then one. Continuing on in the acoustic vein We’re Going To Be Friends, currently the last song performed by the band, is unconditionally loveable. Its simplicity can never be reworked and as the crowd claps along to the story of childhood love. A tear may come to your eye.
As the greatest hits wear on we get the most redundant moment of the album, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the performance and it doesn’t disrupt the track list but as it was recorded live, why bother? The most surprising moment is the fun Scottish sing along of Prickly Thorn which unpredictably tops the album version and is real toe tapping nirvana.
If you’re a fan of the bluesy/jazzy slowed down Fell In Love With A Girl then you’ll relish in this intense slow burn of their break out hit. Joss Stone gets beaten in her own game here and never has the spontaneous edge of The White Stripes sounded more genuine, even if there is one jarring hiccup. Similarly When I Hear My Name is reworked to the point of unrecognition, which is good as the very standard blues is so simple it desperately asks for it.
Probably the most shocking aspect of the album is that Seven Nation Army sounds fresh again. What!? That’s right you, heard correctly. Even the most cynical White Stripes fan will find themselves dun-dun-dunning there way through this one. They clearly know the fervour this song creates and they indulge in it to tremendous effect. Stopping to build up suspense and, most excitingly, letting the crowd do the guitar riff as Jack rewrites his greatest hit.
Don’t get Under Great White Northern Lights and then feel all other live material, both released and bootlegged, is superfluous because that is far from the case. What this album does is it gives your record shelf an ambassador from the most important platform of the White Stripes. It was well worth the wait.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Occasionally it’s hard being stuck in the past. Occasionally furiously typing away about the first album of the White Stripes is hard when there are exciting new projects going on outside. Occasionally one must write ones thoughts while they are still fresh in one’s mind. So I interrupt my usual schedule to bring you my review of the new and much-anticipated White Stripes movie Under Great White Northern Lights. These reviews will be a regular thing and accompany any major Jack White new release. So about the film….
The film opens with a cameraman being dispatched amongst a group of befuddled and excited fans looking for the venue of the Stripes oncoming secret show. One slightly anxious fan innocently asks the cameraman to point him in the direction of the show. Later on in the film we see a man outside a show wearing a horse mask that covers his entire head. His justification: “there was a horse thing with their latest album and it was pretty cool” (I’m paraphrasing that quote as I remember it). This immediately makes clear what the tour was about, bringing candy cane frenzy to Canada. All of Canada.
When you watch the secret shows you can literally feel the White Stripes, both expanding and making a deeper connection with their fan base. The first one of the tour and the first one we are shown, Jack and Meg walk, with little fanfare, to the centre of LePage park with screams of ‘welcome to Whitehorse’ coming from every corner. Jack picks up his acoustic guitar and they start playing a hushed, tender rendition of Black Jack Davey. As Jack tells this magical gypsy story to the crowd he assembled in less than an hour you realise the magic of what you are witnessing and the fact that it is caught on film feels almost unreal. But this gig was probably the most orthodox secret show of the film with scenes jumping from Jack bowling an eight while playing Let’s Build A Home, not dropping a note, to him and Meg leading an overexcited crowd through a sing-a-long of Wheels On The Bus, quickly cutting to a youth centre where a child, of no more than about 6 or 7, is given the mic by Jack to do his version. Suddenly Canada has been converted to Stripes country, it is there’s, and not in some glorified egotistical rock star indulgence but in an actual desire to give the country something special, directly to the people.
But the film doesn’t just connect to Canada through the ordinary people. Maybe I’m underestimating the world recognition of The White Stripes but isn’t it a little bit odd for the mayor of Yellowknife chauffeuring the band around town? Whatever your opinion it’s a fascinating, if bizarre, act of Rock N Roll diplomacy with Jack, Meg and Mr. Mayor conversing about the town’s history and the bands bowling adventures (I kid you not). Even more amazing is the meeting between the Stripes and a group of Inuit elders who cryptically explain to Jack the significance of the raven. They then exchange songs with Jack giving a song from ’way down south’ seeing as they are ‘way up North’, a lovely version of Lord Send Me An Angel. While the nature of the meeting might distract you from the actual performance, it’s truly fantastic because you realise he is really trying to impress them, and he seems to succeed. In exchange they give him an accordion sea chantey (I kind of got culturally lost here) accompanied by some pretty awesome Inuit square dancing. Maybe this is how diplomatic relations between the US and Canada should be conducted?
But while their love letter to Canada is the setting for the film, the heart of the film is the relationship between Jack and Meg themselves. As much as we go on about personal lives not meaning anything to us, we were all dying to see a fly on the wall view of the two and we get what we wanted but the mystique is preserved. The dynamic is predominantly playful and it’s pretty clear how the two got away with the brother/sister thing. At one point Jack jokingly yells at Meg for not talking quietly, while in another he digs is own grave when, while humorously getting Meg to explain he does not purposely steal the limelight in interviews, he inadvertently talks over the top of her. But at the end of the day the bond between the two of them is intangible, they seem to inhabit each other, which may account for their near telepathic communication on stage. The same way we could only watch in on The Beatles in Let It Be as their Liverpudlian humour went over our heads, we can only try and understand the connection between these two people. The only time we get close is the emotional final moment where as Jack’s performance of White Moon brings Meg to tears he simply holds her and comforts her. Know words for the cameras. Just the two of them together.
If Canada is the setting and Jack and Meg are the drama then the action is the concerts. If you thought The White Stripes could no longer surprise you as a live band you were fucking wrong. These performances will make you fall in love with the band all over again because they are truly amazing. In Black Math Jack immediately renders Blackpool obsolete as he stops and starts, shrieks and furiously runs his fingers over the fret board. The drama of Jolene, which I never felt I needed to hear again, gets turned up to 11 as Jack agonizes each syllable, painfully spitting out each word. I’m Slowly Turning Into You is rewritten on stage transformed from a poppy sing along into a Jazzy rhythm, slowly building from the haunted whisper of the title to startling screams by the end. Probably the true testament to the films brilliance is that Seven Nation Army is actually exciting again. As the crowd chant along to that ever-so-familiar riff you can hear Jack tying the ribbon on the bands first ten years.
There’s no other way to put it, if you are reading this blog you MUST see this film if you can. The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs will completely disappear from your conscious and two words and three colours will sum up your entire life at that moment.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
You know it’s funny how wham-bam-thankyou-mam this whole album is. If you wanted to unjustly describe it you could just say it’s a lot of crashing and yelling and then it’s over before you really know what has happened. That seems like an unfair and negative assessment but I find it part of the appeal. It’s loud, quick and unpretentious, yet the adrenaline rush it provides justifies it as a classic. So when I come to these two ‘filler’ tracks it’s a good time to talk about the albums strength as a whole. Because as the old saying goes, an album is only as strong as it’s filler.
If Little People or Sicker Drips are your favourite songs then don’t get too upset I don’t use filler as a criticism, in fact Take Take Take is a perfect example of ‘filler’ yet it is probably my favourite song of that album. To me filler songs are the ones that have no ambitions to dominate the track-listing, to simply fit nicely into the context of the album, not jumping out at you. This is why so-called filler is such a good measure of an album because they feel like a product of the album instead of a building block. If you feel these songs aren’t filler, fair enough but neither of them are performed live with any regularity and are rarely discussed amongst fans.
So putting aside how modest the intentions of this song are, I genuinely love Little People. It’s positively bizarre with spooky gothic verses that are almost monotonous in nature, interrupted only by big and very unsubtle bursts of noise. And what the hell is with that theremin/slide guitar in the background? It’s just a very unconventional song, one that would have thoroughly scared off any major labels and enticed any indie music geeks for it’s novelty moments.
Lyrically it’s equally unorthodox. I’m not going to attempt to analyze these words because they are about as non-sequiter as you can be but there is a much more interesting discussion this song brings up. All White Stripes nerds will know that every album by the two has a song with little in it’s title. Uncovering some psychological reasoning behind this is far from hard. The minimalistic style that goes a long with everything the band does is also complemented by the DIY, community-based nature of Jack’s business mind. So as far as the little theme (along with home) it’s easy to see Jack has a love for the smaller things in life, not to mention a disdain for large conglomerate-centric thinking, from the Big Three to the death of the independent record store. Another little side note is that as well as introducing the little motif this song also features a mention of red shoes and Jack’s only song writing contribution to Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose was a composition called Little Red Shoes. Interesting, huh?
Wrapping up, what can one say about this song? The answer: not much. If this entry has seemed half-assed I apologize but I think this song is probably not designed to be dissected gratuitously. It’s the kind of song that makes my blog hard and my life fun. My suggestion is you go put on Little People, don’t think about anything and just enjoy yourself because, as little thought as it, I sure did.