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Review: White Riot At Restless Jack's Quick Radio City Set

by Photo of Michael Quane

Jack White’s “50 Minutes Of Infamy Set “ angered many fans on Saturday night.

Review: White Riot At Restless Jack's Quick Radio City Set

Jack White ripped through a 50-minute set, complete with hits and his distinctive bluesy gut-busting guitar style, before a quick mumble of thank-yous and goodbyes, and that was it. He came, he played loud, he left. To fans who paid big bucks for this gig (minimum $40 for a seat), that wasn't enough. No encore, no Seven Nation Army, no Fell In Love With A Girl, no Steady As She Goes. Was it enough for me? I'm answering a fully-biased yes, because even though it was short, this is still one of the best rock n roll shows out there, and Jack White knows how to put it together. 

Beginning as I strolled into the plush Radio City Music Hall venue, I was taken aback. It was my first time at Radio City Music Hall and the Titantic-like interior left me impressed, if not left with a touch of an inferiority complex. Settling into my nosebleed seat early, I waited expectantly as the crowd slowly filtered in. For the opening act the venue was, at best, a third full. That unfortunately didn't help Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three, as their music would really have benefited from a closer and livelier atmosphere, rather than the echoing Bat Cave that Radio City became. Part Vaudeville, part blues, part folk, a show that could have come straight from the Prohibition Era, Pokey and the Three were endearing, but effectively lost in the high-ceilinged atmosphere. A smaller venue and a boozier crowd would have sufficed. I do not dismiss Pokey And the South City Three, but it just wasn't their night. 

The opening act finished up; the anticipation for Jack White intensified as people began to file in. Touring to promote his latest work, and his only solo album to date, Blunderbluss, I feared that the slower, more laid-back nature of the album might be lost in the venue, in a similar way to Pokey LaFarge's act. However, as White took the stage, I was left under no illusion that we were in for a rock show. "Black Math" was White's opener, and its fast pace immediately brought the crowd to it's feet. 

Radio City Music Hall being a seated venue, however, did not help anyone looking to react to White to give a bit more energy to proceedings. In my seats, for instance, about two thirds stood for the show, the other third sat through most of the show. There was a general feeling of some kind of uncomfortable juxtaposition between the show onstage and the setting.  During the show, White goaded the audience with the remark "Jesus Christ, is this an NPR convention?!" This has been taken by some as a sign of White's frustration at the lack of crowd enthusiasm. Personally, I felt it was more of a general jibe at the audience White would have made at any show to get any kind of reaction. 

As he settled down to a piano version of White Stripes classic "Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground," White joked "Settle down fellas... Can't hear myself think...". Again, this has been taken as a sign of White's bad mood on the night, or his indignation at the crowds behavior. In my eyes, and to my ears at the time, it was just general goofy audience-performer banter. Here's a sample of what White played, "Sixteen Saltines," from Later With Jools Holland... show earlier in the year with the same band:

White briefly slowed things down with an acoustic guitar for a version of "Love Interruption," one of the songs from his newest album, before he took off again in soaring guitar. White finished up his set with "Ball And Biscuit," a song made perfectly for live improvisation. Jack White then said his goodbyes, and walked off stage. Much of the crowd stayed on for up to 30 minutes and longer until the house lights went up, and ushers directed to the nearest exits. In that time, the atmosphere went from adulation of Jack White, to anticipation, to impatience, frustration and then all out anger. I stayed on for 20 minutes, holding out for an encore, but realizing none was coming, walked away, a little disappointed at no encore, but still enthralled by his show. Many more were less enamored, from general calls of "F**k Jack White" to a screaming fan standing outside the exit demanding her money back. If anything, I was left more bemused by the crowd's quick change in mood than anything Jack White did.

In interviews, White explains that he never plays with a setlist, never has a set number of songs to play. He just feels it on the night, and goes by that. A general life philosophy of living-in-the-moment. On Sunday night, Jack White played a 90-minute set, complete with three encores. To those who bemoan the show, I say maybe a little of that living-in-the-moment might be insightful. Rather than complain about the brevity of the show, what about the excellence of the show that was there? Did I catch Jack White on a bad night? Maybe, but if that's a bad Jack White show, I'll gladly be signing up for another the next time around.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see Jack White while he embarks on his tour.

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