It’s not every day that you get to see the kickoff of one of rock’s most anticipated tours — alas, every once in a great while the stars align and something magic happens. For more than two hours last night, none other than Jack White jump-started the tour in support of his highly anticipated Lazaretto LP at Tulsa’s legendary Cain’s Ballroom.
It was hard to tell just who was more thrilled for the evening – the sold out crowd (one of the fastest sellouts in the venue’s history) or Mr. White himself, a long-time lover of Oklahoma’s most historic music venue. I’ve seen him at the Cain’s a few times now, each time he declares his love for not just the venue but the town itself. Unlike most performers who frequently espouse their feelings for a given city – Jack was entirely believable, seemingly empowered by the history and the giant country and western portraits lining the inner sanctum of the venue. Jack is right at home in Tulsa it seems, and the city couldn’t have been happier to have him visit once more.
After a wildly unremarkable set by Third Man Records artist Kelley Stoltz, Mr. Jack White hit the stage around 9:45, just a few minutes after his scheduled start time. Similar to Jack’s last visit to Tulsa, the band and the man himself were awash in blue light immediately as the show started, opening with a pummeling version of Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground. The pace was brisk but the night was long, and for just over two hours White obliterated the expectations of those in the crowd.
Musically, the band was on fire. The first half of the gig did suffer from some clipping on the audio front, something (it sounded like the fiddle) was simply too loud and would cut out at times. This was due to the equipment however, not the band, and it was luckily resolved during the break between sets. The band, still unnamed (I think) is a tighter, more condensed version of Jack’s previous two bands (the all-male Buzzards and the all-female Peacocks), and they were absolutely firing on all cylinders for the tour’s first night. Drummer Daru Jones deserves a special mention, as he was crushing everything from the hard and gritty rock of the earlier White Stripes material to the brand new, deep country material from Lazaretto. While there’s hardly a need to mention it because you probably already know — Jack was in killer shape all evening, firing off solo after solo on guitar and sounding nearly perfect on the vocal front.
The evening was heavy on White Stripes material, with only two Raconteurs track (a funky, drawn-out Top Yourself and a phenomenal Steady As She Goes) with nary a single Dead Weather track making an appearance. The big surprises of the evening were in the choice of White Stripes material to dust off – Jack & Co. pulled out everything from You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket and My Doorbell to a country-fried version of Fell In Love With A Girl and a killer show-closing Seven Nation Army that was peppered with pieces of Little Bird. Not to mention my personal favorite moment of the night – the resurrection of Icky Thump with some stellar synth work by keyboardist Ikey Owens. Lots of weird choices, all of which worked out, and the crowd would have glad taken any other tracks that Jack could have tossed out.
There were a few surprises throughout the evening as well. While Steady As She Goes made appearances on Jack’s last solo tour, the Tulsa performance was seasoned with a lengthy snippet of Led Zeppelin’s The Lemon Song. Yes, you read that right — The Lemon Song. The Rose with the Broken Neck, from one of Jack’s collaborations with Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi came out of nowhere. Many in the crowd didn’t seem to recognize the song which I believe made its live debut at this show, but it was one of the evening’s most striking moments.
Tulsa also experienced a healthy portion of Jack’s new Lazaretto album for the first time, with nearly half of the album popping up throughout the set. Most of the songs were new for the crowd, so while both Lazaretto and the instrumental High Ball Stepper could have been familiar with some in the audience, a number of tracks were being played live for only the first or second time. Three Women found Jack sitting down at a piano, channeling his inner 70s-Elton John. The very, very country-styled Alone in My Home received an extended weird island-bossa nova sounding intro section which gave Jack time to introduce his great band. The title track of the record, Lazaretto was probably the best of all the new tracks, sounding like a continuation of where Jack left off in 2012 with Blunderbuss while being familiar enough to keep everyone fully entertained.
Like 2012’s Blunderbuss tour, pretty much every song was filled out in sound by keyboards and extra string instruments, whether it be a double bass, a fiddle or a steel guitar, all of which made multiple appearances during the evening. My life, thus far, has been pretty much free of all country music, but Jack was taking me there. If you are going to be led down a path that you aren’t really sure you ever needed (or wanted) to go down, well, at least you are going down it with someone who knows their way around it. Perhaps the most country moment of the night was a performance of You Know That I Know, a Hank Williams song that remained unfinished until Jack completed it in 2011 for The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project. Jack said there was no way he could come through Cain’s Ballroom and not play the song, which he also claimed to have wrote with a ghost (that of Hank Williams, if I had to guess).
Seven Nation Army closed out the evening, rallying everyone together for one last hurrah before the Cain’s crew kicked on the blinding house lights. Before that moment came, however, Jack led the crowd through the weird chanting that has developed to accompany the track, and for the first time in my long life as a fan of Jack’s music, I got to hear one of his biggest songs come to life in a live setting. After the first verse, Jack went into an extended tag of the White Stripes’ Little Bird, eventually lying on the ground during a guitar solo all before picking right back up where he left off and closing out with the second half of Seven Nation Army. It was an unforgettable way to top off an already impressive evening.
Regardless of what era of Jack White’s career you favor, I can guarantee you that the man is going to deliver a monumental show for you when he stops in your town. Except maybe for fans of the Dead Weather, or for those of you who couldn’t snag tickets. For the rest of you, Jack’s Lazaretto tour is packed to the brim with classics, rarities and new material, delivered by a band (and lead artist) who are beyond fluent in the language of music. Perhaps the year’s most anticipated tour delivers in ways that 2012’s Blunderbuss tour only hinted at – trust me and do not miss this show if it rolls through your neck of the woods.
Setlist (may not be in the right order): Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, Missing Pieces, High Ball Stepper, Temporary Ground, Alone in My Home, Fell In Love With A Girl, You Know That I Know, Hotel Yorba, We Are Gonna Be Friends, Lazaretto, Hypocritical Kiss, Icky Thump, Sixteen Saltines, Freedom at 21, Hello Operator > Cannon, The Rose With the Broken Neck, Three Women, You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket, Top Yourself, My Doorbell, Steady As She Goes > Lemon Song, Seven Nation Army > Little Bird > Seven Nation Army
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