In the Flesh

At the Fillmore Sunday night, the Raconteurs were definitely tighter and — dare I say it? — more professional sounding than they were during a packed free show at Amoeba Records store in Los Angeles shortly after the release of their debut Broken Boy Soldiers album. The group perfectly blended all of the classic rock elements — from pure pop to psychedelia to Southern and blues rawk — that can be found on both CDs during this performance, with a heavy emphasis on their most recent LP, the superb Consolers of the Lonely.

This reviewer did miss the mariachi horns that add so much to the spaghetti Western thrust of "The Switch and the Spur" on the new album. But Jack White, Brendan Benson and crew — that's not really fair; former Greenhorners Jack Lawrence and powerhouse drummer Patrick Keeler are integral, highly visible members of the group, more so than in many similar modern quartets; the live band was rounded out by added keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Mark Watrous — reproduced the sounds of the new album to perfection during their performance. A few things did get extended into jams and wanking — perhaps a little too much wanking on songs like "Steady, As She Goes" (the first album's hit single) — but no one can really fault the sound these guys created on the Fillmore stage. Like I said, they were so tight, you could cut them with a knife. And there lies the problem. ...

Live, the Raconteurs lacked the danger, the spontaneity (especially the spontaneity) and, yes, the sexiness that's always been associated with the greatest rock 'n' roll music, particularly rock music from Detroit. As my friend Bootsy, who accompanied me, pointed out during the show, for a guy who lists the Stooges' Fun House as his all-time favorite album, Jack White has yet to create anything that approaches the pure craziness, abandonment and combustibility of that record. Even when he goes into some of his more dynamic guitar pyrotechnics and histrionics, one never gets the feeling that White is anything less than in total and complete control — something you never got from some of his own guitar heroes of the past.

Of course, maybe that sense of danger and spontaneity doesn't necessarily apply to the classic arena rock aesthetic the Raconteurs strive to achieve. After all, Johnny Thunders would've sounded out of place in a band like Boston. And it was nice and gratifying to see popmeister Benson grab more of a center stage role on this tour. His live take on the band's cover of Terry Reid's "Rich Kid Blues" (which almost sounded like classic Who in this environment) and his own McCartney-esque "Many Shades of Black" were definite show highlights.

Still, there's no question as to who the star and the leader of this band is — and Jack White (dressed in black T-shirt and black jeans; that is, none of the silly outfits he's worn in recent press photos, although the roadies were all wearing little bowler hats like something out of A Clockwork Orange) plays a rock star better than almost anyone in contemporary modern rockers. Sometimes, it seems that this is his biggest and most important talent, even more so than his undeniable musicianship skills. Still (it has gotta be mentioned again), the wanking — on the part of the whole band — just got to be a little too much at times. Doing the aforementioned "Steady, As She Goes," the extended jam format simply drove home that the band is very lucky they didn't get sued by Joe Jackson (listen to "Steady" and Jackson's "Is She Really Going out with Him" side-by-side sometime). And the droning "Blue Veins" struck this critic as an extremely poor choice for a closing number.

On that whole "rock star" tip, by the way, the one thing that remains baffling about the show is the question as to why White had a mirror on his amplifier, which he gazed at throughout his performance. Is his ego really that big? Was it a joke? I mean, Bob Dylan always performs with his Oscar on his amp (which always gets a chuckle out of those who notice it) ... but Jack White brings a mirror. It's not a totally new concept, of course. Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs used to have a mirror onstage to prim and pose and fix his hair in front of — but it was a shtick. And it was certainly a shtick — a pretty funny shtick — when Morris Day of the Time used to pose in front of a mirror onstage when that group would tour with Prince. But in White's case, it didn't appear to be ironic or humorous at all. It simply left a large majority of the crowd with "WTF?" bubbles over their collective heads.

Another major complaint was the ridiculous amount of time the band took between the final song and returning to the stage for an encore. It took so long, in fact, that the cheers and applause had subsided dramatically before they returned; that's how long it took them. Of course, as everyone from Rolling Stone to the Associated Press has now reported, the audience roar became positively thunderous when Meg White then walked onstage with the band and briefly sat behind the drum kit. Kinda cool, actually, even if it was a tease. And the three-song encore, which concluded with the excellent pseudo-Dylanesque "Carolina Drama," another of the new LP's highlights, was much more satisfying than the aforementioned final song of the concert proper. White also graciously thanked Detroit for all its support, something I'm told he neglected to do at Saturday's show.

Nevertheless, even though the Raconteurs delivered well for a quasi-arena rock show, there still seemed to be something missing. I went with an open mind. Honestly, I did. And I love the new album. But the show just didn't strike me as being quite enough.

Did Jack White have a mirror onstage that he looked into throughout the show? Check. Did the Raconteurs make the crowd wait an inordinate amount of time before returning to the stage for an encore? Check.

End of review, I suppose. There's really not anything more to say.

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