The Dead Weather, HMV Forum, London
Jumping Jack's alive and kicking
Thursday 05 November 2009
In the school of rock, Jack White would surely be head prefect. His insatiable appetite for extra-curricular activities has seen him collaborating with Alicia Keys for the theme of Quantum of Solace, Electric Six, Loretta Lynn, and Brendan Benson for the Raconteurs. But White's latest outfit, the Dead Weather, sees perhaps his darkest incarnation yet: the Mr Hyde to the Raconteurs' Dr Jekyll – a brooding, foot-stomping, gothic channel for his multifarious talents. Beneath this White Stripe is a darker core.
The band – comprising Alison Mosshart of the Kills, Queen of the Stone Age's Dean Fertita and Raconteur Jack Lawrence – sees White retreating to the drums and Mosshart commanding the crowd on vocals.
This show is the last of their UK dates in support of debut album Horehound and follows a sell-out gig at Brixton Academy. The Dead Weather come on to an eerie backdrop that suggests a spider's web radiating from what looks like a ghostly pelvic bone, the bass drum illuminated by a solitary candle. It's an aesthetic that purveys the band's gothic blues sound. Given the cherry-picked line-up this could easily be an exercise of style over substance, but pleasingly isn't – Horehound has been generally well received.
They launch straight into album opener "60 Feet Tall", Mosshart prowling the stage like a caged panther followed by a single blue light as the twang of Fertita's guitar and the singular thump of the bass drum give way to the swamp-rock chorus.
Two new songs follow, all pounding drums and grinding riffs, but it's not until the masquerading frontman emerges from the back for vocals on the second that the crowd really gets going, with Mosshart retreating to the tambourine, her panther recoiling to an alleycat.
But then Jack's back again, orchestrating the snaking voodoo blues of "So Far from Your Weapon" from the drums like a shaman, lest we forget that this is first and foremost his side-project. Mosshart's vocals whirl from syrupy to screeching, her slight frame bent double backwards. The pace quickens with the syncopated "Hang You from the Heavens" and it's only at this point that she is obscured by the rest of the band, captivating the crowd in all but voice.
The album is played out in its entirety with the exception of the instrumental "3 Birds", peppered with new tracks that the band have been writing while on the road. The psychedelic rock "Jawbreaker" was apparently finished this very morning and has the crowd in thrall, building up into such a frenzy that at one point Mosshart – like a cat fighting for its kill – yanks the mic lead across the stage with such force that it disconnects.
It's swiftly plugged in and normal service resumes as the two vocalists sidle up to one another to share the microphone for the pseudo-dirge "Will There Be Enough Water". It's the first time you get to see the curiously endearing dynamic between them that you don't necessarily hear on the album. They come back on to an encore of the rabble-rousing "Treat Me Like Your Mother", which has White channelling Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha for the chorus while simultaneously thrashing the cymbals. They finish on an explosive cover of Bob Dylan's "New Pony" (from his 1978 album, Street-Legal), then come to the front for an uncharacteristically demure collective bow. It all feels over too soon, with the crowd baying for more from the straight-A student and his peers.
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