Jack White’s musical direction may change like the weather, but based on the evidence of his latest side project his apparently boundless talent is far from dead. Awful first pun over with, when they release the Jack White Pension Fund Best Of… compilation, the chances of a Dead Weather song appearing on it are relatively slim. Their music is raw, and their live set full of energy, and yet, I find it hard to imagine that the record will have the same listenable qualities as The Raconteurs, let alone the Bond Theme. This is a great shame, because White’s Midas touch is as evident here as anywhere else – he has an incredible talent for creating supergroups that are comfortable in their own skin.
It is possible that had White tried to carve his niche with a ‘proper’ band, he would never have made it. The consummate outsider – old-fashioned, eccentric and gangly – only in a two-piece could he have had the necessary freedom of expression to become the garage rock icon (the most exciting thing John Peel had heard since Hendrix). Since then he has drifted towards the mainstream, while imposing himself by strength of personality on The Raconteurs – ostensibly a partnership with the soon-subordinated Brendan Benson.
Now, in an about-turn, White is back to the instrument he started out on (the drums) and has lurched into a totally new direction, away from his idiosyncratic blues-rock and into something more akin to goth metal. There are elements of Black Sabbbath and Led Zeppelin to The Dead Weather’s sound, but it’s all so joyfully anarchic as to defy bracketing. Time will tell how seriously we are to take them. On the night, Hang You From the Heavens was perhaps the only song that sounded fully polished and stood out as a single. That’s not to denigrate the music – it was one of the most purposeful sets I’ve ever heard.
White’s drumming is unconventional to say the least. Ringo he isn’t. He’s the centre of attention, his rhythm and timing slightly off, but virtuoso and engrossing nonetheless. In fact, it’s a lot like his guitar work. Selecting Alison Mosshart of The Kills (who toured with The Raconteurs and took over vocal duties at the end of straining concerts for Steady as She Goes) as frontwoman has worked perfectly. Her personality fits with the band’s arrogant carelessness. She tears up the front-of-stage, defying the press to ignore her antics as they try and get a picture of White. Hers is not the mischievousness of Lily Allen, but full-on, simulating-sex-on-the-floor grunge.
Jack Lawrence on bass is the anchor for White’s most recent successes, and I can’t help thinking a necessary foil. He’s a talented musician in his own right, and has just enough control on the song to allow White to wander, whether on drums or guitar. If there is a Ringo to the group, it might be the Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dean Fertita, who essentially does what is needed of him, although some of his work in the encore is exceptional.
The band thunder through a short and intense set. Each song starts with or descends into jamming. The Dead Weather are clearly having enormous fun. However, it’s when White picks up a guitar that the fun stops and the magic begins. The meandering, spaced-out way he picks at his guitar makes you feel a story is abut to unfurl. Then come the solos – so organic, like no-one but Neil Young in his day, but more direct. A change of guitar half-way through the song – probably a technical problem – only adds to the effect. Duetting with Mosshart is so far removed from Alicia Keys it deserves not to be forgotten.
It’s clear from the hastily-assembled Dead Weather that Jack White is one of, if not the most gifted musician of his generation. But there’s also a lesson to be learned. To cement his reputation, and to carry on writing great songs, White needs to lead from the front, and with the guitar.