Published Nov 10, 2018For a long time (perhaps fairly), Jack White was considered a rock'n'roll purist: a Luddite who plays and records on archaic pieces of equipment; a creator of seven-note stadium anthems; and rock's last flag-bearer still flying high after its revival in the early 2000s.
But the former frontman (and one-half) of the White Stripes isn't the same artist as he was once perceived to be. He's more than that: a singer, songwriter, and producer who dabbles with drum machines, collaborates with Beyoncé, and the kind of guitar god who decides to bring two keyboardists/synth players on tour in favour of any backing six-string accompaniment. He's not going to tolerate your regressive bullshit, and his no-phone policy at shows isn't meant to block your means of communication or limit your creativity on social media (although it certainly does that), but snap you out of your overall complacency.
If you focus long enough, you may just realize he's actually doing something interesting on stage (his new music owes more to the pop-charted path of Beck than the blues legends that inspired him in the past), rocking with intent even if the world doesn't listen as closely as it once did.
On Friday night at the Ottawa stop of his "Boarding House Reach" tour, the entire breadth of his career was on display, as White and his four-piece backing band played hits from his early Detroit days to the present.
They came out strong out of the gates with "Over and Over and Over" — perhaps the biggest single from his latest album, which shares the same name as his tour. Unable to get everyone in the arena to their feet, he took it upon himself to show them the way while leading into his second song, pogoing in the air as the opening wallop of "The Hardest Button to Button" rang out in TD Place, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
As is the case with most solo artists with an impressive back catalogue behind them, receptions to White's songs were pretty mixed throughout the night, with classics ( "Hotel Yorba," "Broken Boy Soldier") taking centre stage while recent tracks ("Why Walk a Dog?," "Respect Commander") received tepid responses. So did deeper cuts — early White Stripes tune "Cannon" landed like a thud, and "The Rose With the Broken Neck" and "I Cut Like a Buffalo" were treated as the mid-career blips that they are.
Once the overpriced libations took effect and dank ass dad weed filled the air, the audience opened up a bit more. De Stijl dynamo "Little Bird" took wings and surprised many an audience member who forgot how good it was, and White even got everyone to chant along to the opening hook of Lazaretto's out-there instrumental "High Ball Stepper."
But it was in the encore that White and his band truly shone, vibing through the beat of Q-Tip's "Breathe and Stop" before playing the Raconteurs' "Steady, As She Goes" and solo cut "Sixteen Saltines" to some of the biggest responses of the night.
Ripping off one of his compression arm sleeves and throwing it into the crowd, White continued to rile up the audience with his riffs, performing White Stripes standouts "Ball and Biscuit" and "The Same Boy You've Always Known" — slowing things down midway through with solo cut "Connected By Love" — before finishing the night strong with "Seven Nation Army."
It was surely an expected end to an evening that offered many surprises for those willing to pay attention, especially to the tunes that didn't quite fit his stadium-sized ambitions.