In addition to the photos (and review) of the show with the all-girls band (The Peacocks) at the London Forum, I have now updated this post with many more photos with the all-men band (The Buzzards) he played at the Brixton Academy which makes for one of the largest single collection of Jack White concert photos on the net. Enjoy!
There was rock’n'roll. There were rockstars. It was a millennium ago.
Internet arrived. It tore down barriers, eliminated frontiers. Disclosed a new horizon. The excitement for the news was loud. So loud that people cried at the death of rock. The end of rockstars. A spontaneous call that seemed to make sense. Unknown future. More music, less rockstars.
They had reasons. Neil Young too, though. Rock’n'roll is here to stay.
A rule is as a statement that puts a limit. History taught that the ones writing rules, building barriers, are often unprepared to foresee all consequences.
Limits are raised, walls erected aiming to contain. But they pose a symbol to overthrow.
Sometime someone succeeds. Jumps over and obliterate the limit. Setting a new standard. If he’s a rocker, he may become a rockstar.
It is difficult to say whether it is because of the internet or the artistic suicide of the few antagonists, Casablancas and friends to name the first. Truth is, this millennium (so far) has one star left to shine in the rock’n'roll sky: Jack White.
The stage. Even before Jack White concert begins, in the half hour the roadies take to set up the huge and mysterious stage, it’s clear his show is going to be something different.
It’s not secret Jack White is as obsessed by his look as he is by his sound.
Since the first White Stripes LP cover it was pretty evident. Tonight, 15 years later, the situation hasn’t changed.
The color scheme of the new period has changed to an ice-cold blue/grey. HTML somewhat around #95B9C7. The gadgets-rich merchandise matches.
It recalls Blunderbuss’ artwork, the new (and first) solo album out today. He is about to performing live in London tonight. With only one show happened the night before in Paris, this is UK debut for White as a solo artist.
I may have a personal record here. I was at the first Racounters UK gig at the Astoria; I photographed (on film!) the first Dead Weather show here at the Forum and here I am at the first Jack White solo gig after a tenacious attempt to convince XL Records it was worth giving me a photopass. Surely it was worth insisting.
Oddities. The floor, instead of the standard black, is painted white. The roadies are a band in the band. They don’t wear shorts or t-shirts from obscure festivals and forgotten bands. They are fully dressed in black suits, hats and their ties match the color scheme. The duty is to set up the instruments, monitors and cables but the operation is done with a harmony that looks like a dance. And they are here to control the control freak.
When I try to take a picture at the guitar effects, I am stopped. It’s forbidden (as long as roadies are on stage I am told). All the effects have been painted in #95B9C7 and are unrecognizable. There’s a Boss, there’s another pedal (may be a wah-wah or a volume?). I don’t know. Unless you are a professional guitarist the recipe producing the most identifiable guitar sound of the last 20 years is top secret.
The ‘head of the roadies’ put the setlist to the floor with (white) tape. I don’t have the time to grab the camera to snap that he throws a brown towel over it hiding the songs’ titles.
The drumkit on the left is kept covered till the last minute. Even the sound is checked under the light blue/grey cover. A pedal steel stands on a pedestal on the back. A Fender Telecaster sits on its right, a Gretsch on the left. Everything is in the ice-cold blue theme. There is a valve amplifier for each of the guitars. Three of them, aligned on the back. It’s the apotheosis of analogue stuff, any vintage lover would go mad. In front of this set.
Keyboards are on the right, opposite to the drumkit. In front of it there is an old acoustic guitar. It is so timeworn that I think it’s a century old. It reminds me of the only Robert Johnson picture.
Coolness at its peak, this is 100% Jack White.
9:30. It’s about time. The Forum security works hard to avoid the appearance of any smartphone/camera. They threaten to kick people off the venue if photos or videos are taken. It is written everywhere. On the long run it’s a lost war, but the battle tonight seems partially won.
My photopass sticker is even more precious. It obviously looks cool. It says: “I’m taking photos” and has the three stripes logo of Third Man record. Want to guess the colour? Click here.
9:40. Jack White, profession rockstar, arrives 10 minutes late.
In a brilliant interview to Alexis Petridis for The Weekend, Guardian magazine, he tells that until he can afford it, there will be two bands on this tour that alternate. One all-men and one all-girls band.
I realize White has a lot in common with Prince. They’re both incredible guitarists, they’re both control freaks and they are obsessed with coolness. No surprise that Prince‘s lesson going: “given similar conditions an all-girls band is sexier” is what Jack White opts for his London debut. Six girls appears onto the stage.
Three seconds into it, everyone is surprised. No one, not me for sure, expected that on the night of Blunderbuss’ launch, Jack White would start the show with Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground from the best White Stripes.
He also stands next to the drummer, his natural place for so long. I think at Meg for a split second. Carla Azar, the girl on drums is the opposite of Meg. Instead of leaving it to the pause, she fills any instant with a relentless drumming. Add to that a bass, a pedal steel, a violin, lot of keyboards and a couple of backing vocalists and this clearly will never sound as any other ensemlbe Jack played before.
Jack White doesn’t disown his past. He looks forward to reinterpreting it. He shows off his songs proudly. It is not a greatest hits set, every song is different from the way people know. It is a reappropriation of his songs merged with brilliant new tunes.
The new single Love Interruption, played on that delightful old acoustic guitar, shines as much as Hotel Yorba from White Blood Cells. Two Against One, from the disappointing album Rome, recorded in collaboration with Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi gets revised. The ghost of Meg revives in We’re Going to be Friends.
He plays a lot of guitar. Opinions on Jack White have divided guitarists and music lovers for at least ten years. This fact in itself is enough to prove he has left a sign in rock. To find another guitarist which style influenced mainstream rock in such a recognisable way, we have to set the clock back twenty years and evoke Kurt Cobain or Tom Morello.
Jack White fathers are Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page this is as obvious as it is superficial. So it is no surprise to imagine his grandfathers playing the blues in cotton fields in the Delta.
There is more. White is an emotional musician. His style is all about impulse, temperament not technique. He isn’t precise and doesn’t need to be. The only thing he is obsessed with is the sound. It is more important than the notes. Stripping it to the bone Jack White belongs to the school of Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young rather than Van Halen or David Gilmour.
His solos are anomalous waves. They arrive all of a sudden and last as much as he feels.
The closing piece tonight is a raucous version of Ball and Biscuits . From his ice-cold Telecaster a downpour of saturated notes puts an end to any debate, the audience is gobsmacked.
Jack White is on a happy mood. He plays without compromise. You may thing such a setlist is a safe bet. To go through White Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather hits protects him to face the reaction of his fans on the new stuff. I don’t think it is a planned strategy. There’s no answer because there is not a conceptual questions. Simply he wants to play his music and feels free to pick his favourite.
The encore, after the song that closes Blunderbuss, Take Me With You When You Go, offers a rich trio of crowd pleasing tunes. The White Stripes’ Doorbell, Raconteurs’ Caroline Drama and even Seven Nation Army that I didn’t think I would ever listen to, again, in this life. A riff which has become part of rock history next to Satisfaction, Money and Smoke on the Water.
Maybe the last riff.
Jack White salutes, acknowledges and thanks the faithful English audience with a folk piece borrowed from Leadbelly. Goodnight, Irene is his homage to London, the city who made him a rockstar.
Maybe the last rockstar.
Color scheme. Light Scheme. All has been prepared and is matching on stage. Blue/grey/white and him, Jack White, dressed in black!
Lights are not easy. Blue-ish throughout. There is not a warm spot in sight. There is some magenta appearing here and there, maybe to match his eyes make-up but overall It is an ice-cold blue affair. #95B9C7 you know!
To shoot raw is a must do at any concert. If you are serious about your photography, you must shoot only and always raw files. Too much unpredictability to risk unworkable images. I’m telling this after many years I have been shooting filml.
At this concert raw is more important than ever. Having the flexibility to balance the whites in post production is essential to avoid that all the pictures look the same blue.
The white floor is something unusual and helps. It acts as a reflecting panel. It brightens up the shadows and gives roughly a stop to the otherwise dark conditions. I managed to increase the shutter speed to around 1/200s at f/2.8.
Jack White moves a lot on stage, unless you want a mic-in-the-face photo with him singing behind the microphone, it’s a typical hide and seek situation. The faster shutter minimize motion blur.
This was the hottest concert of the year so far. The news of the album setting N.1 both in USA and UK mark a milestone for White already rich career. There was a dozen of photographers in the pit. We had less than a dozen minutes to nail the moment. The first three songs were quick to switch lenses (another body would help). For me it was a 24-70mm one night stand.
On the train back home I look at the pics, moderately satisfied by the result. I regret the short time. I must be obsessed to get the perfect image as Jack White is to get the perfect sound. I am sure with more minutes and less pressure this gig has potential to deliver awesome images. I ‘imagined’ some incredible pictures during the show, after the third song. No one was allowed to take. Someone has to understand how this is damaging music and photography.
These photos have been successful and justified the train journey and a 3.30 AM post-editing. Published on the Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Telegraph, The Quietus, The 405 and several other websites I set my personal record. Ready for the next.