As advertised, there were no phones allowed at Jack White‘s tour opener on Thursday. For the artist’s biggest show yet in Detroit, his hometown and site of the Third Man Pressing plant, only one thing mattered: that fans had a “100 percent human experience” devoted to music, as White put it in a pre-tour statement. At Little Caesars Arena, all electronic devices were secured in Yondr pouches that could be unlocked at dedicated stations around the concourse.
White’s sold-out show in support of his new album Boarding House Reach – which marked the first time the musician had played an arena in the city where he was born and raised – was an impressive, screen-free undertaking that tested the waters for the remainder of the tour, which would follow in similar fashion.
The message was loud and clear: be present and be centered. That’s not to say it was an easy concept to take in. Those concert-going rituals that had become so innocuous – sending an email in-between sets, texting a friend to meet up, snapping a quick photo – were now unavailable, and it took a fair amount of desensitization to adjust to the normalcy of it all.
Simplicity prevailed, though. Thursday’s show featured no set list. White and his band improvised on the fly, picking at random which songs they wanted to play during their nearly two-hour performance. With no structure, no phones and no additional video screens, the immense scope of an arena-sized show became more intimate, packed into a neat little box onstage. A very large room felt very small, despite not looking as entirely sold-out as it was billed. But if there’s one thing White has mastered, it’s filling any space with sound.
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The show unfolded as a love letter to Detroit. From the show’s opening acts – local faves the Craig Brown Band and hardcore heroes Negative Approach, plus Detroit techno artist Mark Flash – to constant shout-outs to the Motor City, this was an evening entirely dedicated to White’s hometown. (Members of the Detroit Tigers squad were even in the house.)
White’s performance, which began promptly at 9:45 p.m. following a ticking clock countdown, spanned the various chapters of his career. From classic White Stripes to Raconteurs and Dead Weather favorites, and solo material both older and new, few stones were left unturned as White returned home.
“You know, Detroit,” White mused, dressed in a green-and-white Cass Tech jersey – the colors of his former high school, “I’m your son.” As if to drive home that message, the artist’s mother joined him onstage for the White Blood Cells cut “Hotel Yorba,” dancing around with him in a circle as he sang.
The production was simple, with White onstage backed by a full band – including backup singers and a DJ – awash in a steady stream of blue light throughout his performance that left the rest of the arena dark. White’s savvy showcraft proved exhilarating for fans, who sang along during the Stripes’ “My Doorbell.”
Set highlights included a fiery version of “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” White’s collaboration with Beyoncé, which read as a nod to her groundbreaking Coachella performance last weekend; the Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like a Buffalo”; the Raconteurs’ “Steady, as She Goes”; White’s solo numbers “Love Interruption” and “Sixteen Saltines” off Blunderbuss; and White Stripes hits “Ball and Biscuit” (the riffs of which seem designed to fill an arena) and “Seven Nation Army.” It was the latter, though, that left the strongest impression, as the crowd stomped their feet to the beat of the drums. White’s stadium anthem, often heard in the same arena during sports games, was finally being performed in real life, and Detroit couldn’t get enough.
As the band took a final bow just before 11:45 p.m., White left the crowd with one message. “Be positive,” he said, “and love Detroit.”
“Over and Over and Over”
“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”
“Why Walk a Dog?”
“I Cut Like a Buffalo”
“Everything You’ve Ever Learned”
“We’re Going to Be Friends”
“Steady, as She Goes”
“Ball and Biscuit”
“Don’t Hurt Yourself”
“Connected by Love”
“Seven Nation Army”