If a seven-nation army can’t hold back Jack White then it should come as no surprise that a sprained ankle won’t either. The former White Stripes frontman was shoeless and tensor-bandaged when he hit the stage at Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park on Thursday night less than a week after injuring himself onstage at a gig in San Francisco, but it didn’t obviously slow the fit-looking 39-year-old down.
Walter White may be the one who knocks but this Mr. White is the one who rocks; a bonafide, old school guitar hero for the digital age over the past decade-and-a-half playing with either his sister, wife ex-wife Meg or with all-star side projects such as the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. His latest tour is in support of his sophomore solo album, Lazaretto, which was released on vinyl in June and quickly became the top-selling phonograph since Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy, which held the record record for the past 20 years. A “lazaretto” is an old nautical term for a quarantine station for sailors and the name goes back to the biblical Lazarus, noted friend of Jesus and original king of the comeback.
Not that White could be described as being on the comeback trail — like his first solo effort, 2012’s Blunderbuss, Lazaretto debuted at the number one spot on the charts. The last time he played the park was seven years ago as part of the Icky Thump tour, which was famous here in Canada for being the first tour by a rock band that stopped in all 10 provinces and three territories. (It seems hard to imagine Trooper hadn’t already earned the bragging rights for this decades ago, but there you go.) This time around he was accompanied by a much more technically accomplished percussionist in Daru Jones, not to mention a crack five-piece band that included pedal steel guitar, keyboards, theremin and featured Lillie Mae Risch on fiddle, mandolin and vocals. Though he’s long since ditched the red-and-white peppermint look, a good chunk of the night still favoured early White Stripes tunes over new material.
The set opened with a wide-ranging “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” — which no doubt also would’ve been an apt description of the outdoor venue itself if the concert had happened a few weeks later in the fall — and also dug up a few obscure tracks such as “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” from the Stripes’ self-titled 1999 debut and DeStijl’s “Apple Blossom.” The audience was warned beforehand not to ruin things for others by waving their damn phones in the air the whole time, and a link to shots by a professional photographer were helpfully offered as free souvenirs instead. White is also notorious for demanding crowds show a suitable level of engagement and has been known to walk offstage early if they don’t seem into it enough.
Not that this was a problem.
Unlike what was too often the case at last month’s Squamish Valley Music Festival, where audience members weren’t necessarily always fans of the artists who happened to be on stage at any given moment, everyone was there to see a musical prodigy in action. White asked for the first crowd singalong early in the set during White Blood Cell‘s “Hotel Yorba” and gave a huge appreciative grin when the crowd gamely belted back the goods. The set was sprinkled with new stuff and a melange of drastically reworked medleys and rare cuts. He even broke out “The Rose With the Broken Neck” from his team-up with Danger Mouse.