Although I don’t “feel it” exactly the same way that a lot of people do when it comes to Jack White, I do “get it.” As the guy who seems to have been singularly tasked with the unenviable mission of saving what is left of rock and roll, Jack White seems to be just about the most obvious choice out there.
Personally, I like the idea of Jack as the perfect candidate for rock and roll Jesus for a lot of reasons. But the most obvious of these is a simple one. I like my rock stars much the same way as I like my politics, and that is decidedly left of center, and perhaps even a bit ever-so-slightly adventurous and off-kilter.
To me, that is what the best rock and roll has always been all about.
Watching The Raconteurs: Live At Montreux, a new DVD featuring a 2008 set, is the perfect case in point — and why Jack White fits the mold of rock messiah so perfectly. The guy simply oozes passion for his craft, and on this particular concert document, he does so to the point of making you almost forget that the rest of the guys in the band are even there.
For one thing, Jack White determinedly follows his own artistic muse — much as Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Neil Young did before him — regardless of any potential commercial fallout. But more importantly, like those other giants of rock and roll, his artistry lies far less in his technique at his particular instrument, than it does with his creative imagination, and his ability not to be limited by the constraints of any one particular format.
Which brings up an argument I’ve been having with a musician friend of mine recently, as relates to music in general, but to musicians — and guitar players in particular.
In this case, my friend continuously points towards the virtuoso players of the day — the Satrianis, the Eric Johnsons and such. Guys who can play their asses off, without a doubt.
But for me, great guitar playing has always come down as much to feeling and emotion, as it does to technique. This is what separates the B.B. Kings of the world from the dime-a-dozen metal technicians who can spew ninety notes in a blinding second, but still leave you struggling to remember even a single note of what you have just heard after the fact.
This is why guys like Jeff Beck and Neil Young will win out in a guitar shoot-out over the likes of Clapton and Bonamassa — at least in my mind — every single time. Technique is a thing that can be learned. Basically, anyone with the necessary patience, discipline, and yes, the skill to stay with it, can do it. Passion, on the other hand, is a thing which cannot. To guys like Jack White, this comes as naturally as breathing, and is something that can be heard in every screeching, distorted note he plays on this DVD.
Sometimes less is more. Great songs don’t hurt either, and the Raconteurs have racked up plenty of those too.
It’s one thing to make a guitar come in thirty seconds the way that guys like Yngvie Malmsteen do. Like premature ejaculation, it’s satisfying for the brief, short term moment. But it doesn’t last. It’s quite another to leave you craving for more the way that guys like Steve Hackett’s crying sustain, Beck’s slapping whammy bar, Neil’s hypnotic upper-register harmonics, or Jack White’s crazy, fuzzed out take on the tectonic blues scale do. It aint’ always pretty, but it sure as hell gets the job done. More often than not, it also leaves you good and drained.
In that respect, this brand of guitar noise is a lot like great sex. The dirtier sounding it is, the better.
Guitarists like Neil Young or Wilco’s Nels Cline carry an equal advantage, because they are able to blast off into their own sonic stratosphere with the added benefit of having great songs to work with, and otherwise use as a launchpad. In Cline’s case, those belonging to Jeff Tweedy, and in Neil’s case…well, you know…
Which brings us back to Jack White. As a guitar player, Jack White’s style could probably be most closely approximated to the dirty blues-rock of Jimmy Page. In other words, it’s nothing particularly extraordinary from a purely technical perspective, but it sure as hell works. What separates White from the rest of the axe-slinging pack — much like those other cats — is the passion he puts into it.
I can’t exactly put a label on what it is I like about Jack White’s playing and singing on The Raconteurs Live At Montrueux 2008 DVD so much. But what I do know is that I like it. A lot. The other main guy in the band, guitarist/vocalist Brendan Benson, has some nice moments too, as do the rest of the guys. At least when Jack isn’t chewing up the scenery here with the same sort of wreckless abandon as Heath Ledger’s Joker did in the Batman movie. But make no mistake, The Raconteurs Live At Montreux 2008 is pretty much the Jack White show.
Personally, I like the more edgy, reverberated shit that Jack does as a solo artist and with the White Stripes, than anything he does with a more proper band like the Raconteurs on this DVD. Even so, White’s stamp is all over this, and is ample reason why he has earned his stripes — “White” or otherwise — as the apparent savior of rock and roll (or at least what is left of it).
It ain’t pretty. But it may be all we got. Buy this DVD immediately, and file it under essential.