Tuesday night's show carried an uncomfortable undercurrent that was mitigated by the music. But for how long?
My review of Jack White’s show Tuesday at the Saenger is online at The New Orleans Advocate. An additional thought crystalized when photographer Chelsea Dunn sent me some of her photos from the show. It seemed apropos that the stage was well lit, but in a way that provided little illumination. It’s hard to imagine that anybody felt any closer to him by the end of the set, and step back from the music and the show felt very controlling. One of White’s well-dressed crew members came onstage before the concert started to tell us that we didn’t need to take photos because there would be better ones than we could shoot on White’s website, and that we shouldn’t bother videoing the show on our phones because the recording would be so much less compelling than experiencing the show as it was happening.
He was right, and the speech was effective. There were far fewer cameras in the air at the show than there usually are a meaningful concert. It helped that the efforts to deter photos and video were accompanied by permissions - you can stand up, you can get good photos tomorrow - and that it was phrased, sincerely, I expect, as an effort to get people to enjoy the music in the moment. But there’s no getting around White’s effort to control not only his music and its presentation but the audience’s response to it.
It also felt like one more battle in White’s ongoing war with modernity. Modern recording technology? Bullshit. Buy vinyl. Contemporary clothing? Too casual. Dress like mobsters. Modern business? Too grasping. Create your own business and foreground aesthetic instead of financial values.
The latter is a model people in general could learn from as Third Man Records highlights things we share with White instead of monetary concerns. Beyond that though, his gentle but firm demands on the audience will only fly as long as the music makes being on White’s side compelling. History shows again and again that artists’ stances on politics, issues, or against the 21st Century make fans feel righteous and/or rebellious, but if they don’t care about the music, their support evaporates.
Fortunately for White, the music Tuesday night was undeniably powerful, and no one I ran into on the way out was in any way disappointed. But others shared the feeling that the phenomenon was more fragile than the meticulous presentation from merch table to closing, sing-along “Goodnight Irene” might suggest.