Hardly a few measures after taking the stage with “High Ball Stepper” at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Wednesday, Jack White took his first solo of the night. Then his second. Then his third. Halting the swampy roll of the instrumental track from his new album, “Lazaretto,” he would rip from the depths of his amp a crunching, all-consuming sound, followed by piercing squeal and a bluesy bend. As he moved into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” Jack White had again claimed his musical territory for the 9,000 in attendance: He’s the guitar hero for millennials, embalming a nostalgic version of rock music for a generation more comfortable with indulgent bass drops rather than indulgent solos.
“Open your mouth and take a big sip,” White told the audience as a steady rain had started to fall before his next song, “Just One Drink.”
Then White sang the opening lines of the saloon rocker: “You drink water, I drink gasoline,” and he was spot-on this Wednesday night in the foothills. For the next hour or so a continuous rain fell, and while the crowd toughed it out through the steady downpour, White was their fuel.
Dressed in all black with his dapper pompadour falling out of place, he slid across the stage, hopped on his monitor and ignored the stage hands desperately trying to towel off the water from the floor under him. Bathing in the constant blue lighting (he’d renamed the venue “Blue Rocks” for the night), he’d swap guitars mid-song and jump on the drummer’s pedestal.
For his second round touring a solo album, White’s own material — as in not from his many successful projects — still gets its chance to shine in small doses. The honky tonk of “Lazaretto” translates well with his latest band, which brings a pedal steel, a fiddle player and keys. “Temporary Ground” painted a little country-rock balladry into the set, as did “Blunderbuss,” with White on the piano.
It seems the scale is starting to get closer to balanced between how crowds receive White’s solo material and the popular tracks from the Raconteurs and the White Stripes. It only took the first few notes of the thick, near-hip-hop bass line of “Lazaretto” to get the crowd moving on Wednesday night. Even his introduction of “Three Women” got some big cheers before he started playing it.
Through the rain, a pensive and wavering “We’re Going to be Friends” was injected with a little bit more White attitude and ego. The moist clothing, the lightning coming from seemingly every side of the venue was hardly even noticeable as he hit his stride on the Raconteurs “Top Yourself.” And his solos, they tore through the sheet of water, giving the audience more encouragement than White’s occasional, “We’re all in this together.”
But an hour into the show the rain suddenly stopped, and feeling the energy in the crowd pick up, White had a burst of adrenaline. During the White Stripes’ “Ball and Biscuit,” White scrambled over puddles to get up to the audience. Standing a few feet in front of the crowd, he offered his guitar to the sky.
After a short set break, White and his band returned to reward the audience for its resilience to Colorado’s unpredictable weather. And right away, it was worth a soggy ride home.
White kicked off the second set with the White Stripes’ “Icky Thump,” a track that shows off some of his most inventive guitar work. Pushing his instrument to the limits of the high register, White yelped the track’s lyrics, while sometimes switching into an evil falsetto. With a glance at his band, he transitioned into the surf guitar showmanship of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou,” — another song that fits with White’s ideology of liberal explorative guitar solos.
All drama and thick riffs he saved the new track, “Would You Fight For My Love?,” for the encore alongside White Stripes and Raconteurs songs. And once again, it seemed he’d been planning for a rain storm all night as he sang the lyrics, “Just as I am always scared of water, but not afraid of standing out in the rain.”
Huge, thankful cheers from the audience.
After tearing through “Steady As She Goes,” which included a call and response portion with the audience, White played a front porch-y “Suzy Lee,” before the seminal Jack White closing song, “Seven Nation Army.”
As he played that all-too-simple bass-sounding guitar line and let the audience sing the melody, the rain was already forgotten. Did it rain on Wednesday in Morrison? Maybe. Would it matter? No way. Maybe with the blue lighting, his many references to rain, and his pasty, day-deprived skin, rain is exactly the weather for White. After all, wouldn’t it be more out of place to see White in the middle of the day at, say, a baseball game?
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.