In 1990, a teenage upholsterer and would-be priest named John “Doc” Gillis landed his first musical gig drumming for the Detroit cow-punk band Goober and the Peas. Twenty years later, Jack White III was back behind the kit last night at New York’s Bowery Ballroom with his newest band the Dead Weather, a black-clad squad featuring singer Alison Mosshart of the Kills, Raconteurs bassist “Little Jack” Lawrence and Queens of the Stone Age guitarist-keyboardist Dean Fertita. As the band’s first official show (Dead Weather debuted at a private Nashville gig in early March), it was a big bill for a small room: The 600 capacity club sold out in minutes, and was packed shoulder to shoulder despite the fact that the Dead Weather’s debut album Horehound doesn’t come out until June (read about it in our Spring Album Preview).
If last night’s tunes (“60 Feet Tall,” “Bone House,” “Rocking Horse”) were any indication, Horehound is bad-news music: a collection of overdriven dirges replete with Zeppelin-esque lurch, chainsaw guitar riffs, static-lacquered vocals and low-frequency buzzes. White is enjoyably loud and loose as a drummer (surprise), and the fact that he’s toured extensively with Fertita and Lawrence in the Raconteurs couldn’t be more obvious. Recently formed bands don’t play with this kind of spite and swagger. They also aren’t usually afforded lead vocalists as brazen as Mosshart. A perfect hair-tossing, chain-smoking, stage-prowling analogue to White, Mosshart didn’t so much sing lyrics as spit them out like accusations.
And why not? Stripped of the White Stripes’ innocence and the Raconteurs’ glamour, Horehound is shaping up image-wise to be a kind of post-apocalyptic Western: a blanched landscape of “bone houses,” “sinners,” oedipal urges and “demonic ponies.” It’s a shootout between God and the Devil at the OK Corral. The Dead Weather still draws its signifiers from the typical sources (the Bible, pre-War blues, Dylan) but the difference here is that along with morality, White’s longstanding obsessions with melody and words have been replaced by a new emphasis on rhythm, sexual menace and interplay.
It’s an interesting shift for White, but ultimately the show’s best moments cropped up when the band simply leaned on tradition. After a roadhouse take on Van Morrison’s “You Just Can’t Wait,” the group got its obligatory Dylan fix by working the Street-Legal gem “New Pony” into a supercharged grind. Predictably, the night’s biggest roar came when White picked his guitar back up to burn down the worried man’s lament “Will There Be Enough Water” — one of those originals that sounds like it’s been around for 60 years. “Just because you caught me,” White sang, “don’t mean it’s a sin.”
“60 Ft Tall”
“Treat Me Like Your Mother”
“So Far From Your Weapon”
“I Cut Like A Buffalo”
“You Just Can’t Win”
“Will There Be Enough Water?”
“Hang You From The Heavens”