“There’s a lot of dangerous stuff going on,” Jack White told Rolling Stone recently of his new live show. “The crowd can smell that.” He delivered on that promise during his two-night stand at Roseland Ballroom in New York, playing a thundering set with an all-male band on the first evening and a soulful, literally explosive show with an all-female band on the second.
Monday’s opening gig with the male backers was heavy on attack; White wore a black suit with a white stripe across his chest, his light blue Telecaster slung over one shoulder like a musket. The band began with a frantic, fuzzed-out jam before White launched into the distorted roar of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” drummer Daru Jones bouncing out of his stool. He and the other musicians served up White’s hardest-rocking tracks; the Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like a Buffalo” possessed a newly warped, raucous funk; the White Stripes “Hello Operator” incorporated blazing fiddle and manic piano as the crowd chanted every line. The band could be thrilling, including when they broke into frantic jazz excursions, but they were often too busy; during “Ball and Biscuit,” which Meg White initially left spacious for White’s guitar to roar, Jones included drum fills that diminished in impact.
Midway through the first night, White launched into a familiar riff: the White Stripes’ chugging Elephant classic “Black Math.” He towered over Jones as the crowd erupted; then White stopped, appearing to abandon the song altogether, and re-launched into the song – this time slower, the time signature chopped up like a hip-hop loop. It took a moment for the band to find their footing, but they did; after a few verses, with one head nod, White returned to the riff at its original tempo.
The second evening, on Tuesday, featured the all-female band and their irresistible barrelhouse soul. As White energetically directed them, bouncing across the stage on pure instinct, the musicians looked as if they were riding a roller coaster. He leaned over drummer Carla Azar during their second number, “Missing Pieces,” until she nailed the weird tempo; he slowed down “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” performing it as a duet with backup singer Ruby Amanfu before ditching his guitar to play it on the organ.
“Tell me what to say, cause I’ll say it,” White told the second night’s audience as fans shouted obscure Stripes cuts. He broke into “Hotel Yorba” with new instrumentation that the original recording had only hinted: fiddle, bluesy piano and pedal-steel twang. “We’re Going to be Friends” turned melancholy in a new time signature. The band provided rich, spooky harmonies to “Two Against One” from last year’s Rome project, and they blazed through the Raconteurs’ slow-burning epic “Carolina Drama,” one of the night’s highlights. “The Hardest Button to Button” was pure energy, faithful to the original recording.
The biggest surprise came at the end of night two: after the band left the stage, an explosion rang out from the right side of Roseland. A VIP section had been cleared so that White and his all-male band from the first evening could play an encore on the venue’s old main stage. White donned a black t-shirt and played White Stripes-style jagged guitar, tearing through “Black Math,” a frantic “Catch Hell Blues” and “Seven Nation Army,” for which the crowd clapping thunderously and sang the main riff. It was gratifying, watching White addressing his past without fear – though clearly, he is hell-bent on making his new chapter a wild ride.