By Eric Kiska
Motor City Muckraker
Jack White made his long-anticipated debut Monday night at the Fox Theatre, a downtown Detroit concert hall not far from where he once bussed dishes and made pizza in his youth. White told the audience he remembered the venue having “over-buttered popcorn and over-sized chandeliers.”
Media reports said he seemed frustrated with the crowd, despite an emotionally charged three-hour show that left many in the audience screaming and professing their love for him.
At one point White stopped playing for a few minutes after he smashed a bottle on stage and clenched his index finger in pain. His frustration seemed to be aimed at the venue itself rather than the crowd. He consistently asked the crowd “how are you feeling tonight” and said he was going to ask “every 10 minutes” just to check.
He admitted that this would be the only time he’d play the Fox Theatre and said it was “it was the final piece of the puzzle, and I saved it for a long time.” He hinted that he disliked the venue but wanted to conquer his qualms with it.
Photographs and cellphones were strictly prohibited as a member of his staff announced to fans before the show that “the show isn’t this big,” pointing out that a cellphone couldn’t possibly capture the magnitude of a rock concert. Most of the audience respected that.
In a way, much has changed since he graced small Detroit venues such as “The Magic Stick” with his two-piece punk-blues fusion band over ten years ago. At the same time, it seems as if his high-octave guitar solos and wonderfully paranoid-sounding voice hasn’t changed a bit.
What has changed? The raw, garage rock sound he was once known for is more produced and has slightly lost its feel of “punk-blues” and has added a subtle sound of country. There is no doubt Nashville (his new hometown) has become evident in his music.
Songs such as “Fell in Love with a Girl,” “Hotel Yorba,” and “Cannon” are now played by his backup band with slide guitar, violin, keyboard and mandolin, something many die hard White Stripes fans never thought they would hear.
It seems that White has broadened his musical horizons with his age and is experimenting with new sounds and musicians. Famously known for never making a set list, White is jamming songs out longer and showing off the talents of his highly-capable back-up band, which includes Michigan native and southwest Detroiter Dominic Davis on bass (formerly of the Lansing blues, bluegrass band “Steppin’ In it”).
On his last solo tour he had two bands accompany him, one male band and one female band. Neither knew who would be performing with him until the morning of each show. This time he has one band, which is mostly from his aforementioned all-male band, with the exception of Lillie Risch, who is now the backup singer, violinist and mandolinist.
Highlights of the show included a solo acoustic performance of the White Stripes songs “You’ve Got Her in your Pocket,” which seemed to leave White emotional as pain was audible in his voice. He didn’t explain what left him so sentimental, but one could guess it was nostalgia.
The blues jam “Ball and Biscuit” from his 2003 Grammy-award-winning hit album “Elephant” roared through the balcony as White did his best soloing work of the night. It reminded fans that although he added a bit of Nashville to his performances, his “whammy pedal” and blues roots are still buried deep in his heart.
“Seven Nation Army” left the crowd singing the famously melodic guitar riff throughout its performance. White even silenced the whole band to let his fans shout the words and sing the melody at the top of their lungs.
Perhaps the most interesting song of the night was his rendition of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene.” He encouraged the crowd to sing along as he bellowed the lyrics: “Sometimes I live in the country, sometimes I live in the town, sometimes I have a great notion to jump in the river and drown.” Some thought this song choice was a personal statement due to White being born in Detroit and now living in Nashville.
His emotional return home will continue as White and his band will be playing at the Masonic Temple in the Cass Corridor on Wednesday, a place he famously donated $142,000 to save from foreclosure.
Eric Kiska graduated from Northern Michigan with a BS in English and writing and minor in art and design. He’s also a former video editor at Detroit Public TV.