There haven’t been many thrilling, upbeat moments in the menagerie of hell we’ve descended into these last eight months or so. In our retreat from family, friends, routines and wellness in the name of simply surviving and Doing What Needs To Be Done, we’ve given up the wide majority of seasoning that makes life so damn delicious to begin with. Among the most dearly missed is live music.
On “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, Jack White helped us collectively break out of these hellish doldrums – if only for a moment. Dominic Davis (bass), and Daru Jones (drums) rounded out a live trio for an exhilarating performance that twisted The White Stripes’ “Ball and Biscuit” classic around a new, plague-escaping narrative. The Elephant favorite was kicked off by a tease of White’s Beyoncé Lemonade collaboration “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and intercut with a verse from “Jesus Is Coming Soon,” a Blind Willie Johnson song written during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic – with lyrics far too appropriate for the times:
“The nobles said to the people/ you’d better close your public schools/ until death passes you by you better close all your churches too/ I’m done talkin/ I done told you, God is coming soon,” before the real nuts-kicker: “The great disease was mighty and people were sick everywhere/ It was an epidemic and it traveled through the air.”
During his second performance, White brought out a guitar designed for him by the late Eddie Van Halen as a way to pay tribute to the legendary guitarist. He didn’t stop there, however, paying a beautifully subtle fretboard-tapping tribute to the guitar virtuoso during “Lazaretto”:
Those wishing for a Van Halen cover in tribute were let down easy by an Instagram post offered up by Jack just hours before the performance: “i wont even insult the man’s talent by trying to play one of his songs tonight. thanks again eddie for this guitar and rest in peace sir.”
White was the last-minute replacement musical guest on Saturday Night Live this weekend after country singer Morgan Wallen was dropped for breaking COVID-19 protocols.
The performance left us wanting more, but certainly not due to any lack of excellence; in fact, Jack’s execution, tribute and right-there-with-you lyrical changeups were damn near perfect. What we saw was a sobering reminder of just how far we’ve come from the days where seeing our favorite artists onstage was a casual celebration, something we took for granted, not believing but knowing it was as guaranteed as the next holiday on the calendar’s horizon.
The frenetic and unpredictable energy Jack unleashed on SNL like a human Tesla coil was, in some ways, too real for any level of reassurance – like a few moments with a loved one taken too soon. Urgently absorbing every moment, forcing an unnatural balance between staying present and aware & losing ourselves in the intoxicating release of that electric, thrashing live wire. Nobody knows when we’ll be shoulder to shoulder again, exhilarated and reinvigorated, celebrating together in the intoxicating frequency that only live music offers. But this SNL performance reminded us that the passion, the fire is still there, still waiting for its chance to return. As inconceivable as it might be in such insanely chaotic times, it will happen. And we’re gonna be ok.