Jack White - Live in washington, D.C. (Cover Artwork)

Jack White

Live in washington, D.C. (2018)

live show

Jack White, Emmett Malloy, and Amazon Prime bring you the second night of Jack White’s sold out stint at Washington, D.C.’s The Anthem to chronicle the live incarnation of the Boarding House Reach tour. The current touring lineup for Kneeling at the Anthem includes Neal Evans and Quincy McCrary on keyboards, organ, and synthesizers, Dominic Davis on bass, and Carla Azar on drums. Filmed and directed by the Malloys, the concert film is bathed in the characteristic translucent blue that has been White’s trademark since his initial solo offering Blunderbuss. I was able to catch White on the Lazaretto tour, and it appears the stage set up has undergone some upgrades. White’s number “3” numerology figures heavily into the presentation with 3 rectangular projection screens behind White (in a nod to the classic Black Flag bars), 3 monitors and microphones in front of him, and the band lifted on a semicircular platform elevated by 3 stairs. The audience and the stage are bathed in blue throughout the duration of the concert. I do enjoy and appreciate White’s commitment to a very particular aesthetic and presentation, and all the self-referential-ism never really veers into Spinal Tap parody.

Interestingly, Kneeling is bookended by a performance by White at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson High School to a mixed crowd of both excited and confused young millennials. Considering most of these kids were being born as Elephant was becoming a sensation in 2001 (with an at the time eye-roll inducing 5 star review from Rolling Stone that despite the hyperbolic praise was prescient as the album has remained a classic since its debut), it’s fairly humorous to see the most rapturous response given to the performance of “Seven Nation Army,” which has become a worldwide sports anthem and is the most ubiquitous of White’s output. It’s refreshing to see millennials appreciate and enjoy rock and roll.

Of White’s current lineup, Carla Azar appears to be the most dynamic supporting cast member of White’s new touring band. Azar is a Huntsville, Alabama native who made her name as a Bonham-worthy power drummer in the band Autolux. Azar has also collaborated with John Frusciante, T Bone Burnett, and John Doe of X. She’s been a member of Jack White’s musician circle since Blunderbuss and anchored the female only backing group as part of his gimmicky two-gender dual bands for that album’s tour. I actually prefer her drumming to her male counterpart Daru Jones. Jones is an aggressive, loose drummer and prone to standing at the kit and diving in for an attack, but Azar attacks with just as much aggression but is also capable of more nuance and precision, making her percussion contributions more versatile.

The film is interspersed with White, Evans, and McCrary reflecting on the tour. White and Evans celebrate the revolutionary alternative music of the 1980s, discussing Washinton D.C.’s contributions by recalling memories of Bad Brains, Fugazi, and Nation of Ulysses. White continues to promulgate that one of his intents with Third Man Records is to keep records he thinks are seminal to the history of rock and roll in print in their vinyl incarnations. White also discusses the cell phone ban for this run of shows and states that he wanted people to relearn how to respond and react at a concert, believing there are still venues where people are capable of turning off their phones (like church and the movies). He feels the reaction to the ban has been mostly positive as people are able to break their documentation addiction and simply enjoy the moment of the performance. By providing this professionally produced film of the tour, he also negates the need for grainy cell phone videos by allowing fans not present the opportunity to experience the performance. The band also pay a visit to the iconic stairway from The Exorcist and humorously use it as their exit scene (complete with Carla Azar’s self-inscribed “Help Me” on her abdomen) into a Tesla that inexplicably stops at a nearby gas station.

The setlist is an ample overview of White’s career with highlights from across his array of various projects, and even the Boarding House Reach (BHR) material fares well. Beginning with a raucous take on BHR single “Over and Over and Over,” this iteration of White’s rotating cast of supporting players are able to indulge White’s occasional spontaneous diversions without letting the songs go too far off the rails. The purpose of White’s 3 microphones becomes evident on Dead Weather track “I Cut like a Buffalo” where a pitch shifter allows White to be his own female backup singer. White ditches the acoustic guitar and leads a saloon-style crowd-pleasing sing along through White Blood Cells’ “Hotel Yorba.” “Icky Thump” finds new life as a Trump protest anthem and definitely benefits from a full band treatment as the White Stripes version I saw White perform on their final tour had him struggling to jump effectively between vintage synthesizer and squalling guitar. By ceding some of his minimalist tendencies and recruiting a band of versatile professionals, White’s songs take on more depth without losing any of their manic energy. Even the atrocious BHR cut “Ice Station Zebra” fares well here thanks to Azar’s assured drumming and rhythmic accents to accompany White’s Beastie Boys / Run DMC vocal cadence. The set ends with a feisty rendition of perennial standard “Seven Nation Army” that intercuts footage from the Anthem show with the Woodrow Wilson High performance (although nothing can beat that Grammy’s performance of “Seven Nation Army / Death Letter”).

Kneeling at the Anthem captures a band of virtuosos capable of translating White’s extensive catalog into an exciting and engaging live set. Despite my negativity towards BHR, White remains a magnetic, unparalleled performer capable of fusing the disparate corners of rock and roll into one cohesive vision.