Call it a Jack White life hack for the Coachella masses. “Clap your hands and put your fucking cell phones down for five seconds,” the Nashville-based guitar virtuoso growled at the crowd a few songs into his Main Stage set Saturday night. Maybe it was the urgency of a deeply felt conviction that living in the moment should supersede sharing the festival experience via social media. Or maybe White was pissed off that alt-R&B singer-songwriter the Weeknd would claim the honor of closing out the festival’s second day once White left the stage.
Either way, the indie rock icon oozed bad ass attitude, delivering a career-spanning set that tapped upon his work in the White Stripes and the Raconteurs as well as White’s not inconsiderable solo output. Performing a cavalcade of hits including “Steady As She Goes,” “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” the lullaby-like “We’re Going to Be Friends,” and a 10-minute rendition of the White Stripes’ “Icky Thump,” White coaxed an astonishing array of squeals, roars, crunches, and spiky jolts of amplified noise from his guitar to solidify his status as one of modern rock’s most energetic axe men. Moreover, there was something cerebral—almost academic—about his showcasing of American music: rock ‘n roll, to be sure, but also folk, blues, a flourish or two of hip-hop and country.
Toward that end, the performer’s band was rounded out by a honkey-tonk piano player and a flddler. White even tossed a cover of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” into the mix for good measure. But over the course of a day with no shortage of surprise cameos—Este Haim’s freaky “Jungle Love” duet with Hozier, Travis Barker and Zack de la Rocha’s emergence during Run the Jewels’ Mojave Tent set, Flying Lotus’ showcasing the Grim Reaper—there would be no Meg White. Although the White Stripes performed here in 2003 and 2007, hopes of a reunion on the Empire Polo Field remained unrealized when the ever-elusive drummer failed to show. She quit the band at the peak of the White Stripes’ popularity in 2011, turned her back on rock and has maintained a JD Salinger-level of privacy ever since.
Not that Jack needed much propping up by way of guests. He was moody and electrifying, laser-focused and razor sharp in a pin-stripe suit. And amid a Coachella line-up heavy on bubble gum EDM that’s book-ended by the Sunday night performance of Top 40 hitmaker Drake, White came across as decidedly grown up. And as such, he had grown-ass man things to get off his chest.
Before launching into his set closer—the White Stripes’ epochal hit-come-World Cup soccer anthem “Seven Nation Army”—the multiple Grammy winner took a moment to proselytize. “I hope you realize for a few seconds each day that music is sacred,” White said from the stage, repeating “that music is sacred” three more times just in case anyone missed the weight of his statement. It seemed like an implicit rebuke to Generation Selfie or at least to the kind of Millennial fun-lovers who flock to Coachella for perhaps the wrong reasons: to get molly-ed off their heads and bop around in the rave tent wearing garish tank tops without registering the power of music as a life-affirming, unifying force. As the crowd took to chanting “Seven Nation Army’s” signature acoustic guitar line, though, White’s message seemed to take root. It was one of those indelible festival moments that’s somehow greater than the sum of its parts when tens of thousands of perfect strangers rally together around a shared experience, a sacred song. And finally, Jack White smiled.