Jack White - Live At The O2 Academy, Brixton

The man with the Midas touch
Jack White - Live At The O2 Academy, Brixton
If we were to take the title of Jack White’s first solo album, ‘Blunderbuss’, literally - putting his general fondness for antique Americana aside - we might assume thus: Blunderbuss, a word of Dutch origin, is a combination of donder, meaning “thunder” and bus, meaning “pipe” i.e. thunder pipe. This is thought to describe the explosively loud and disorientating sound of the large bore, short- barreled blunderbuss. Therefore, “loud” was a fair expectation for this airing of White’s debut, together with a batch of songs from Jack White’s many other albums with various groups. The pre-gig tension was fizzing as all prepared for an epic gunshot wallop of rock delivered by the man with the Midas touch.

The roadies set up, all smartly uniformed in matching black shirts, trilbies and blue ties, and receive a roar of approval as they make the final adjustments. This is White’s second outing at the venue this year, having aired the album in April with his all-female band. Having heard how blisteringly good that was, everyone’s eager for their share.

When White finally takes the stage, this time with his all-male band Los Buzzardos, they launch into an electrifying, darkness-shrouded version of the White Stripes’ ‘Black Math’. It’s a shot of pure adrenalin and the crowd surge in fevered response. The lights go up and it’s straight into ‘Missing Pieces’ from ‘Blunderbuss’. White is on no-nonsense form, playing with a confident swagger and clearly at ease with the collective of outstanding musicians he has around him. As the band moves into the attention demanding, piano key hammering build-up of ‘Weep Themselves to Sleep’ it’s clear this is the stuff of a vintage gig. We know it, White knows it, and the band is playing like their lives depend on it. There’s nothing to do but surrender to the ecstatically hyped, arm-pumping mush that the crowd has become, which White acknowledges briefly with the comment, “You get one nice day of weather yesterday and you just spring alive, don't you?" He’s not overly chatty, but he doesn’t need to be. The sheer musicianship conveys all that needs to be said. The drummer in particular plays like a one-man whirlwind, while White and the band lay down big fat slabs of rock ‘n’ roll that the crowd devours with manic reverential greed.

White isn’t precious with his old material either. There’s a healthy dollop of White Stripe’s numbers; ‘Hotel Yorba’, ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’, and ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’ making the cut. As does a hypnotic ‘Two Against One’ from his Rome side project, the pulsating Raconteurs track ‘Top Yourself’ and the Dead Weather’s ‘I Cut Like a Buffalo’, which gets a huge response.

‘Hypocritical Kiss’, ‘Trash Tongue Talker’, ‘Freedom at 21’ and of course ‘Blunderbuss’ see the solo album put through its paces to spectacular effect, though it’s the more languid ‘Poor Boy’ that gets the crowd singing every word, much to White’s amusement. If the mood momentarily detours from follicle-raising rock, it’s put firmly back in its place with the closing number to the main set, The White Stripes’ ‘Ball and Biscuit’. It sees White on his knees, shredding at his Fender while the audience strives to edge inch-by-inch closer to the stage. Just when it seems impossible that White could be any more on form, ‘Sixteen Saltines’ blasts us into the encore, followed by the anthemic ‘The Hardest Button to Button’. As the gig aptly closes with the final track from Blunderbuss, ‘Take Me with You When You Go’, several thousand people are left screaming and wishing they could take him up on the offer.

Words by Nick Rice

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