Control Meets Conviction: The Jack White Experience

Control Meets Conviction: The Jack White Experience

What if you were one of 5,200 fans that went to Express Live! in Columbus, OH to watch Jack White perform — but you had no access to a camera, cell phone or recording device? Would it put a hindrance on your experience?

Jack White – who insists on doing all his recordings on analog tape rather than digital — doesn’t own a mobile phone and hates the internet because he hates technology. It’s not easy to get inside the mind of Jack White – one of the most renowned artists of the last fifteen years. He became a rock legend by embracing the past and now he is trying to figure out how to live in the future. Better yet, he has created an atmosphere that forces fans to live in the moment, offering a 100 percent human experience.

Once fans arrived at the sold out venue, they were handed Yondr pouches, which locked their cell phones inside — they then held onto the pouches for the rest of the show. For emergencies, they could exit the show and have pouches unlocked so they could access their devices. White is the first musician to use Yondr for a full tour.

White has all the control — in the studio and during his sold-out show in support of his new album Boarding House Reach. Fans were left not knowing what time it was, thus unaware of when the show would begin. Minutes before White took the stage, an 80s style analog flip clock appeared on the screen — on the one hand causing excitement and on the other, a deep sense of urgency that in minutes the stage would breathe life into the crowd. People cheered whenever White walked through or messed with the clock.

The footage is audio-reactive, so the louder the audience cheered, the brighter it got.

The 25-song, two hour set was certainly meant to interrupt and disrupt. It leapt headlong into a wild world of electro-funk, rap and hard-rock surrealism. White believes that crowds can smell a script, therefore he never walks on stage with a set list. This performance was no different. One couldn’t check out their favorite and most reliable set list web site. Not knowing what to expect created yet another level of excitement and another example of control.

Five, four, three, two, one… Howling roars filled the night sky as the seventh son walked on stage while Artie Shaw’s 1937 “Nightmare” played before singing the seventh track of Boarding House Reach, “Over and Over and Over.” Without the omnipresent distractions of cellphones, all eyes were on White while he took a deep-dive into funk on his experimental new song “Corporation,” a giddy instrumental filled with operatic shouts and squeals.

White satisfied the audience’s need for familiarity when he played his 2014 single, “Lazaretto.” 

A somber highlight of the show “Why Walk a Dog” was one of six songs from Boarding House Reach that White showcased throughout the night. He then ripped into the remarkable “Hypocritical Kiss” from his first solo album, Blunderbuss. Atop the conglutination of piano and drums, White spat, “You would sell your own mother out and then betray your dead brother with a hypocritical kiss.” Fans followed the organ’s groove into the spoken-word reminiscences about the first time White played piano in a song titled “Get in the Mind Shaft,” and then erupted during “Black Math” which features some of his most savage guitar parts — a song that turns on a dime from impenetrable punk rock verses to a slower, more ominous metal riff for the chorus.

At times, White ditched his guitar to play the organ, piano and drums by himself or in tandem with percussionist Carla Azar. It was fascinating to see him transition from one instrument to another in a blink of an eye. Classic Jack White.

Disarming himself while singing “Connected By Love” — the lead single from Boarding House Reach that opens with menacing synthesizers, White sang “Relieve me!” in his trademark howl, confirming that we are still dealing with the same old White Stripes man.

He brought into his set two songs from his days with The Reconteurs – “Broken Boy Soldier” and the popular “Steady as She Goes,” both firing up the audience with gleeful and unabashed fun before the crowd erupted when White played “Seven Nation Army,” a White Stripes classic which is by far, White’s most popular song, so it was not a surprise choice for the closing tune.

Jack White sang with the conviction of an evangelist. He posed questions, presented ideas and broke boundaries. He played songs from his past and present, leaving fans eager to know what grooves, rhythms and sounds this independent rock star could possibly create in the future. 

There’s something to be said about attending a phone-free concert, disconnected from the outside world. This was an experience shared only by those in the audience — one that was captured only through the eyes and ears of committed Jack White fans. 

A unique, 100 percent human experience.

Photography by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Big Hassle Publicity/David James Swanson

Jennifer Broderick

Jennifer Broderick photographs, and writes reviews and articles for NID Magazine.