By Kyle Anderson
May 22, 2012 at 03:50 PM EDT
Jo McCaughey

During the only extended pause during Jack White’s breathless, sweaty parade of garage-scuzz blues at New York’s Roseland Ballroom on Monday night, the rock formalist paused to tell a joke. He described a scene outside a local smoke shop, where two kids were lying on top of newspapers and furiously kissing. “See,” he told the crowd, “it’s not hard to make it on the cover of The New York Times.”

That’s an old gag, but it’s the sort of good-old-boy humor that runs consistent with White’s take on the old bits of Americana that have informed his entire musical career—especially his just-released solo album Blunderbuss. His current tour is full of those kinds of nods: White’s stage is backlit for extra ambiance, while members of his crew all wear three-piece suits for effect.

And while much of White’s aesthetic comes from pre-War ideologies, his musical delivery is pure ’70s. The thunderous hammer of Zeppelin pounded all over riffs from various stages of White’s career. The production on Blunderbuss occasionally dulls the edges, but songs like “Missing Pieces” and “Freedom at 21” were jagged and ear-splitting live. White plowed through riffs and built delightfully cacophonous thrills with the help of his dynamic backing band (this time around, it was the all-male crew).

The set list spread across all parts of White’s career, with every band represented. The White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” kicked things off, and the Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like a Buffalo” was an early highlight. The back half of the set was especially great, as White shifted from a honky-tonkin’ cover of Hank Williams’ “You Know That I Know” to a razor sharp run through the title track from his solo album into an extra-punchy take on the White Stripes’ “Ball and Biscuit.”

That momentum carried into the encore, which included a bouncy run through the Raconteurs’ “Steady, As She Goes” and the delightful Blunderbuss album-closer “Take Me With You When You Go.” The night ended on the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” which climaxed with a remarkable singalong to the track’s iconic descending bass riff that has, bizarrely, become a staple for pep bands at collegiate sporting events.

It worked out pretty well for White, who played so aggressively that he broke a string and needed the voices of the 3,000 or so revelers to help him get through the back half of the tune. White’s skills are exceptional and his interests eclectic, but like most kids who grew up shredding in the garage, he mostly just wants to rock.


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