A few minutes before Jack White and his blue-hued band took the stage at the Paramount, Monday night, a JW minion came out from behind the curtain to address the sold-out room. “Are you ready for a rock ‘n’ roll show, Seattle?” Because if you are, you’re going to have to follow the rules.
Jack White is particular about how you consume his music. To start, if you didn’t smoke all your cigarettes while you were waiting in a line that snaked across the nearby overpass, too bad. As the homemade sign on the door made clear, there was no re-entry (a tour policy, not a house one).
If you’ve spent the summer perfecting the art of crappy, live-music cellphone photography, tough. As the dapper man from behind the curtain explained, Jack White would like you to experience the show the way your parents would have 30 years ago: without clicking your cellphone cameras (to almost make up for not being able to capture your own out-of-focus images, White hired a photographer, and made the pics available online).
With the ground rules set, White and his five-piece band jumped into a blistering, high-energy set that moved across White’s entire catalog: from The White Stripes (“We’re Going to Be Friends”),The Raconteurs (“Top Yourself”), The Dead Weather (“Cut Like a Buffalo”), and his recent solo excursions, with the band hitting the top of its crescendo on “Three Women,” the opening track on his latest album, “Lazaretto.”
As is typical for White, the set was heavily improvised. White fills in the space between melodies with solos and sonic doodles that can last minutes before continuing onto the song’s next verse or finale. This gives the show a freshness, the feeling the you were hearing the lines for the first time, because you often are.
The best songs were the ones with the thickest, most well-defined riffs — “Cut Like a Buffalo” and the new instrumental jam, “High Ball Stepper” — which acted as road maps as White deconstructed and rethought the songs.
The detours are what make the show distinct and entertaining, but also at times laborious. The set dragged on for the better part of two and a half hours. But, to the fans, it’s forgivable. It’s all part of what they came for.
White is one of the rare modern rock artists fans come to see not just to watch a performance of songs, but to get a peek inside his creative process. It’s not always tidy, but it’s also not stale; there’s always something new and it’s never boring (well, at least not for very long).
Jack White’s second show, Tuesday, August 26 at the Paramount, is sold out.
Chris Kornelis is a Seattle-based writer and editor.