Though it topped charts upon its recent release, Jack White’s third solo album, Boarding House Reach, is by far the most esoteric album in his catalogue, making it polarizing among core and casual fans alike. Yet prior to his Wednesday night show at Austin360 Amphitheater, anyone chatting about it shared a similar sense of optimism: No matter how weird White gets, the music almost always comes together masterfully on stage, with threads of epic shred, stomp and shout at last resulting in cohesion.
So how did that assumption hold up during the show? For the most part, it was spot on: Angsty hip-hop-influenced single “Over and Over and Over” made for a searing start, and though the following instrumental-dominant jams (the spoken-word-meets-funk-jump of “Corporation,” the hardcore-leaning “Battle Cry” and the jazz-rap of “Hypermisophoniac”) seemed to stifle some attention spans, the sheer technical talent oozing from each of White’s four backing bandmates was awe-inspiring. Besides, interjections of high-octane onslaughts (a quick verse of Iggy & the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the percussive rollick of the Raconteurs’ “Broken Boy Soldier” and the delightful duels between keyboardists Neal Evans and Quincy McCrary on “Hotel Yorba” and “My Doorbell”) kept the overall tapestry intact.
Truly, White and his crew played the balancing game—between what core fans want to hear and what they felt like playing in the moment—almost perfectly. Cases in point: the odd future-blues of “Why Walk a Dog?” sandwiched between White Stripes rarity “I Think I Smell a Rat” and pounding piano number “Trash Tongue Talker”; and the extra-cheesy cosmic visuals behind the otherwise impressive “Connected by Love” smartly bookended by blues banger “Little Bird” and the main set-closing anthem “I’m Slowly Turning Into You.”
During the break before the encore, it suddenly felt like the show might’ve been too short, and there was no way to guess how much longer it would extend because, due to White’s no-phone policy, no one had a sense of the current time and how much had elapsed. The uncertainty was initially unnerving, but eventually comforting; White’s final rally through five more tracks—ending, of course, with the all-in chant of “Seven Nation Army”—was thunderous.
During A Giant Dog’s opening set, the final of five Texas dates with White, the Austin rock staples froze the flow of reality using their own means: slap after slap of snappy and snarky punk-fueled songs (highlights among them: “Survive,” perhaps the most thrilling instance of vocalist Sabrina Ellis’ never-ending aerobic antics, and closing Sparks cover “Angst in My Pants”), all prefaced by the frontwoman’s apt encapsulation of this tour experience: “We’ve had so much fun sharing van bunks with the Jack White band … [we have] a pact of energy, a chastity belt of freedom …”—as it should be with such a momentous collision of musical tours de force.
Photos of A Giant Dog by David Brendan Hall
Photos of Jack White by David James Swanson