The Dead Weather

I’ll repeat myself. Risking to look repetitive, banal and even snooty. The Dead Weather debut in front of a real crowd in London (they played a warm up show in a tiny ballroom the day before) it was another of those not-to-be-missed night of this exciting summer.

If I can’t use once again the excuse that I struggled to get through this photopass until literally few minutes before the start, I can witness that there are photographers tonight who postponed the Glastonbury departure to cover this show.

Nevermind. Most important is to point out, for the few who missed it, that the hype around The Dead Weather is due to the fact that they are another Jack White creature.
They materialized (virtually) few months ago on any music website as soon as the news spread, then (physically) on the Forum stage tonight.

I missed the early White Stripes. I was living in Italy at that time, a country where new music is at least three albums old. What I did not miss is John Peel’s famous quote: “White Stripes, Most exciting thing since Jimi Hendrix”.

Now, if you are into “Italian classicism paranoia” you know that the dogma is that something historical cannot be compared to contemporary. So speak to any Italian journalist, music lover and they will discard such a quote as Peel’s first sign of dementia.
Then I moved to UK, got to listen and read more about the man and experience a different approach to modern music. It becomes easy to know what the man meant and to agree that he was damn right.

You have to listen the White Stripes live to understand John Peel. He was not comparing music forty years apart, which would be indeed silly, he was comparing an attitude to music and he was spot on.
When Jack White plays he is totally transported by an unconditional passion for his guitar, an attitude which actually hasn’t been that common since, erm… Jimi Hendrix. History tells John Peel was right.

On the contrary, I was in UK and inside the Astoria for the first Raconteurs gig. Jack White first side project and half-super group with Brendan Benson created huge expectations.

The idea of Jack White playing guitar supported by a full band got me quite excited. Anyone who knew what he can achieve on his own in the White Stripes fantasized about what could do with a full band.
History tells that despite the Raconteurs were great and their shows got much better with time, they haven’t really moved rock history towards any new direction.

This long intro to say that I am standing in front of the Forum, with neither ticket nor photopass confirmation, too curious to see this third project of Jack White.

He put together Alison Mosshart, the Kills vocalist, Dean Fertita the Queens of the Stone Age (and Raconteurs) Keyboardists and Jack Lawrence, the Raconteurs bassist.
This is indeed a supergroup, with a surprise. Jack White is on drums.

The music press insists in calling it side-side project. In fact Jack White doesn’t care. He does what he loves, plays the music he likes, when he likes, together with whom he likes.

He is the rock icon of this closing first decade of the Millennium. Find me another one if you can, but please don’t quote Pete Doherty if you don’t want me to ban you!

Before the concert the roadies check cables and tuning instruments as usual. Difference is that they are dressed in dark suits, ties and Borsalino hats. Instead of the usual chubby guy with black tape coming out of a multipocket army shorts and an old, worn festival T-Shirts, they seem to come out straight out of a Vogue photoset.

When the Dead Weather enter the stage, the aura of coolness that permeates the Forum reaches its climax.
Dressed in black from tip to toe, with glossy white vintage instruments and a huge curtain lowered down from the ceiling, it is image design perfection. After all he is a White Stripe, isn’t he?
Very coooool, but this can also be a diverting trick. Let’s see.

To dispel all doubts is Dean Fertita. He opens the set introducing a bluesy guitar riff that repeats throughout the verses of 60 feet tall. A regular, obsessive, relentless, magnetic riff. Jack White to get warm limit himself to beat the 4/4 with his other Jack friend.
Alison Mosshart takes 30 seconds to seduce the entire audience with his murky voice and sensual moves.
The Dead Weather lo-fi blues evolve into a noisy solo where Fertita can show off his guitar skills.

Treat Me Like Your Mother follows. The blues is left a bit aside, Fertita takes the keys and let more noise in. White starts showing off his talent on drums.

He clearly doesn’t have the same skills he has on guitar. His drumming is simpler nevertheless it is potent, big, serves the songs and retains his trademark unexpected, flamboyant attitude.
He follows and fulfill the music. All of a sudden his drumming can become a machine gun that burst into steady fire or get a muffled twist with timpani mallets.

So what do they sound like? It sounds banal but the obvious one is the right answer.
Their sound meets exactly at the crossroads between White Stripes’ reinterpretation of the blues of the hills, The Kills vision of lo-fi noise rock plus some killer interventions offered by Queens of The Stone Age circa Rated R era.
If you can think at something saucier, I cannot.

What doesn’t fit into this mix is the Raconteurs classic rock.
The approach is more experimental, Jack Lawrence doesn’t seem appalled at all.

So if Jack is the humble superstar, Alison the hypnotic beauty, the other Jack the cool image (and the bass groove), Dean is the big surprise.

I wouldn’t have predicted that he is the sound and the hearth, the mind and the noise of the Dead Weather. He is the one that cut a blues riff and then moves into a sonic intervention at the keys before returning to the guitar for a shoegaze break. He is the spine spine on which all the rest holds on.

Alison Mosshart has quickly found her place without James Hince on her side… or because of it.
She offers one of her wild, sweating, energetic performances that infuse sex at any move. In the shadow, in a trance-hypnotic state, her eyes staring at the void.
The ones faraway could think at a forced theatrical setting but looking at her from 30cm it is clear she’s not playing a part. She is body and mind into it. Isn’t it, Juliette Lewis?

If she had a more solid voice she would be one of the greatest female rockstar around, so far PJ Harvey throne is still in place. The three help her on back vocal, Jack White takes lead duties at times with his mic plugged to a strong effect.

What seemed clever with the Raconteurs, to provide Jack White with a full backing band, turned out to be not so effective. The winning move of The Dead Weather is to put White on drums. An intuition that caught the world by surprise, I wonder what Meg thinks.

Shifting a guitar hero on drums balanced the supergroup music and image. adding up his modesty and a desire to challenge himself constantly, gave sense to the whole idea.

Just think at the same band with Jack White on guitar. His explosive personality, his fiery style would act as a locomotive running on its track and pulling three passive carriages.
It be difficult to see such a thing as a real band and not a solo project.

My impression becomes visible when he leaves his drum kit and puts on is loved electric axe.
Will There Be Enough Water starts as a sexy ballad which see him duetting with Alison Mosshart. It’s not long before the love for the guitar takes over the attraction for the girl.
That is the time Jack gets possessed and plays a stellar guitar solo that reminds anyone why he is the rock icon of the decade.

Musically it’s one of the peaks of the night, palpably everything else is dimmed. Fertita supports the lack of bass with a simple organ loop, Lawrence on drums follow quietly and Alison is left alone dancing with her microphone stand.
An entire concert like this would have been a guitar show off. Credit to Jack White to step back for the sake of the band.

As soon as they leave the stage the crowd goes mad. A guy next to me says “they’re stomping them out”. Indeed. The Forum shakes to the clapping and the quartet can’t let them wait more and quickly comes back.

The heavy riff of Forever My Queen by the american heavy metal pioneers, Pentagram, shakes the theatre and fades into their debut singles, Hang You From The Heavens.
The closure is for Bob Dylan’s New Pony which is different enough from the original that I recognisse it because I read it was played at previous shows.

If it is true Jack White is quick enough to form a group, record an album and organize a world tour in the time Kevin Shield wakes up and thinks what to have for breakfast, even more true is that he gathered first class musicians for this project. He is well tuned with Lawrence and Fertita thanks to the Raconteurs extensive touring, Mosshart seems to be at ease as long as a cool guy dating a supermodel is next to her.

There are still a few things to set up, from Alison singing to Jack’s own drumming but impression is very positive.
Some songs leave a slightly sharp aftertaste but that is just to remind anyone that the fruit needs some time to ripe to perfecion.

Apparently the Dead Weather don’t have a myspace official page so I leave you with the official [website] and the very unofficial of this very concert. The frantic photographer appearing on 60 feet tall is actually me. Enjoy (the songs not me).

Photo tip

A quick one to get this occasion and give you some ideas to photograph a supergroup.
Namely a band made of superstars.

Before the show you have a likely problem.
TO fight to get in, million of photographers applying. You may also have to sign a contract which I suggest you read carefully.

In the pit it is likely to find a lot of people and you have to follow the politically correct policy.

Image-wise the main problem is to have all the stars in the same frame, which is quite impossible unless they play on a very tiny stage, which wasn’t the Forum’s case.

The easy options is to shoot one by one but you loose the key point. Catching the magic of them appearing together.

The other option is to couple them in pair.
ONe next to the other, one in the front the other in the back, as long as they are recognizable it’s fine.

Priority one should go to the most famous with the second most famous and so on.
Theoretically it sounds logic. When your superstar is sitting on drum until the last song, and photographers have been kicked out from the pit a long time since, you don’t have the priority one available and you have to opt for different solutions.

While shooting keep an eye at what happens on stage, look for the right angles where you can include to spots and, most important, put attention at what is in the back.
The success of the image is not on the main subject but in the combination of the artist you have in the front with the one (or more) you compose carefully in the back.
It’s another step more difficult, have I ever said it is an easy profession?

~ by Valerio on June 26, 2009.

13 Responses to “The Dead Weather”

  1. Sweet, Like the shots and thanks for the info. They will be here in a month, looking foward to shooting them.


  2. Hey Valerio, great shots – wish I could have been there.

  3. Thanks Tom,
    they’ll be back sooner or later and they’ll be even better…as with other Jack White bands, he is in a rush to come out with new projects averyday and their performances improve with time.

    One of the best gigs of the year, one of the most complicate photopass to sort out

  4. beautiful images! good to see some film too :)

  5. Hey, I was in the front row at this gig and it truly was excellent. Jack White suprised me at how competent he was on drums, and it was practically impossible to take your eyes off Alison Mosshart. Great pictures, you captured it really well.

  6. Fleet Foxes have a new song out called “Blue Spotted Tail”

    Hipster Abraham Lincoln reviews it here…

  7. Here’s the review that really tells it how it is:

  8. So good to see a photographer who still uses film. Digital cameras are overrated.

  9. direi che le foto sono semplicemente SPETTACOLARI!!

    bye bye

  10. Grazie prigioniero, ;-)

  11. Wow seriously impressed with a couple of the photographs – truly excellent work

  12. Thanks Tim,
    this was a very tricky gig light-wise

  13. wonderful

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