Live photos: The Dead Weather at Celebrate Brooklyn

Photographs by Jon Klemm

Sea of Cowards, the Dead Weather's second album, is among this year's strongest rock & roll records. It is a feat of smart production, cryptic and hazy, and concludes on a beautifully feral snarl: "Old Mary," the sole song on the album credited alone to Jack White--the band's drummer, producer and sometime singer. Pound for pound, Sea of Cowards is the meatiest LP that White has crafted outside of the White Stripes. Innumerable contemporary artists would benefit from his production work.

The Dead Weather's performance last night at Celebrate Brooklyn was less spectacular. Stripped of the production mist, new songs shriveled where they should have swelled, exposing an issue that can plague even White's best material: He tends to mask lyrical shallowness with attitude and mystique. Alison Mosshart, the singer who ostensibly fronts this quartet, commanded the stage with a confidence that she had lacked in the Dead Weather's New York debut last year, as well as in her other band, the Kills. Yet her witchy pose still feels like yesterday's strut. Moreover, it is impossible to watch Mosshart perform without recalling Jennifer Herrema, singer of the magnificent '90s band Royal Trux. The Dead Weather itself operates within a similar framework of late-period Royal Trux. Stripped away, however, is that band's experimental foundation, unpredictability, sense of humor, mischief, artistic core and awing guitar prowess.

None of these traits are foreign to Jack White's work: They are, after all, the very attributes that fuel the White Stripes. Much of that band's magic lies in the duo's eagerness to twist rock & roll formula. The Dead Weather, clad in hackneyed black rather than pajama red, revels in these very clichs. At Prospect Park, White made his entrance drinking and smoking. The stage came bedecked in taxidermist heads: at once distasteful and cheesy. In swaggering banter aimed at the indie-rock website Brooklyn Vegan, the drummer, currently in no position to condemn anybody else's diet, spoke of slaughtering a cow. Where the White Stripes are playful and innocent, the Dead Weather seems conservative and macho.

Of course, it must be said that upon entering the stage, White also lit Mosshart's cigarette with a blowtorch. And many songs from the Dead Weather's spotty debut album, Horehound, benefited from the group's time on the road. And White's stage presence remains considerable, even when he's hiding behind a drum kit. In fact, he remains the moment's greatest rock star. Sometimes, I just wish he would rise to his role.

(Tonight, the Dead Weather plays an "invite-only" show at Don Hill's. Those lacking an invitation, or unwilling to go near the scuzzy club, can watch the quartet on Letterman.)