Jack White, Kentish Town Forum, London
New Order, O2 Apollo, Manchester
No one loves a side project like Jack White. But now that he's gone solo, the blues-rock maestro can, finally, do what he does best: shred that guitar
Sunday 29 April 2012
David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust follows the tragic trajectory of a charismatic rocker who emerged from the pack and "became the special man". Jack White has always been "the special man". And that's why nobody wants to see him pretending Brendan Benson is his equal in The Raconteurs, or giving the girl out of The Kills a leg-up in Dead Weather – or any of that pseudo-modest, Tin Machine nonsense.
The White Stripes were exceptional. There's a lot of sexist crap talked about Meg White: as a drummer in a primitivist blues-rock duo, she was as good as she needed to be. Furthermore, the dynamic between the pair was extraordinary. As we found out almost immediately, the titillating façade of incest – Jack sparking off the sexual chemistry with his own "big sister" – was calculated to hide a reality that was even more torrid and screwed-up: an ex-husband and wife performing emotionally charged songs of love and hate, face to face, four feet apart.
Now he's solo, Jack is unquestionably the boss man. With power comes responsibility, and Jack is forced to front up to his audience and do something he's never been particularly comfortable with: interaction. "Are you still feeling good?" is about as warm as it gets.
Backed by an all-female band, The Peacocks, White, with his wind-blown Flymo bob, looks like a Southern gothic scarecrow as he peppers material from his solo debut Blunderbuss with excerpts from the Stripes' canon. Opener "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" is a fine way to slay any crowd. "Hotel Yorba" is introduced as "an old country song" and, augmented with Lillie Mae Rische's Nashville-style fiddles and sped up to double-time, he has a point. I would kill for an "Astro" or a "Hello Operator", but greed isn't good.
The Peacocks may add nuance and layers, notably on "Two Against One" from Rome, the marvellous spaghetti-classical collaboration with Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi. And you'd need to be blind not to notice the chemistry between White and backing singer Ruby Amanfu on the Fleetwood Mac-like duet "Love Interruption" and the White Stripes' "My Doorbell".
But White is at his best at his most brutal. The goosebump moments always come when he signals to his sextet to shut up, and shreds the living hell out of his sky-blue Telecaster. To paraphrase Bowie again, "boy, can he play guitar".
New Order are halfway through "Regret", their third song, when a full pint of beer traces a parabola through the Manchester air and crashes at the feet of Tom Chapman, the band's new bassist. There has always been a lager-lad element to their fanbase, but this wasn't random hi-jinx. This time, one feels, it was personal. Chapman is visibly rattled, and, as the song ends, frontman Bernard Sumner, he of the Spitfire pilot hair, takes over. "We're here to have a party, aren't we?"
There are some, clearly, for whom New Order without Peter Hook isn't New Order. One of them, clearly, is Peter Hook himself, who unilaterally declared the end of New Order in 2007, much to the surprise of his bandmates, leading to an ugly and public war of words. But if this group packed it in every time they lost a member, we'd have been denied three decades of existential tech-pop magnificence. There's no "i" in "team", and there's no Peter Hook in New Order. Fine.
Of course, there are many who go further, who see it as heretical to prefer New Order to Joy Division, as if you are dancing on Ian Curtis's grave. So, sue me. To please the Curtis hardcore – or, perhaps, to disgust them – the setlist of New Order's first Manchester show in a decade includes an all Joy Division encore of "Transmission", and "Love Will Tear Us Apart". For the rest of us, there are flashes of the sublime that only New Order can achieve.
Yes, there's dad-dancing from Bernard. Yes, there's superfluous whooping. Yes, there are moments when you wish the once-reserved Sumner would exert a little ... what's the word? Control.
But when green lasers are slashing the air and New Order are playing "Bizarre Love Triangle", "Temptation", "Ceremony" or "Perfect Kiss" – oh my god, especially "Perfect Kiss" – in front of a hometown crowd, there's no place you'd rather be.
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