November 16, 2018

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No phones, no problem

No-device policy takes nothing away from Jack White's magic on stage

The last time American rock singer-songwriter Jack White rolled through Winnipeg, it was more than 10 years ago, in 2007, when he and White Stripes bandmate (and ex-wife) Meg White took it upon themselves to play a show in every province and territory in Canada on their Great White North tour in support of what would be their final album, Icky Thump.

Since then, White, 43, has been keeping busy to say the least.

He’s released multiple albums with other bands — the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather; worked on tons of other musical collaborations; continued work on his own label, Third Man Records, written a children’s book; and released three solo albums (all of which hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts), the most recent of which, Boarding House Reach, was released in March of this year.

White, now on tour with that record, has been getting a lot of attention for his no-device policy, requiring attendees to lock up their phone in a pouch for the duration of the concert, and at Bell MTS Place on Tuesday night, things were noticeably darker, the typical hazy glow from thousands of screens now non-existent as fans focused only on the tiered half-circle stage housing White and his band, the only screens in the room being the three massive ones behind the musicians.

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The last time American rock singer-songwriter Jack White rolled through Winnipeg, it was more than 10 years ago, in 2007, when he and White Stripes bandmate (and ex-wife) Meg White took it upon themselves to play a show in every province and territory in Canada on their Great White North tour in support of what would be their final album, Icky Thump.

Since then, White, 43, has been keeping busy to say the least.

David James Swanson photo</p><p>Jack White, seen on his latest tour, performed a setlist Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place that seamlessly blended new songs with old hits spanning his prolific career from the White Stripes on.</p>

David James Swanson photo

Jack White, seen on his latest tour, performed a setlist Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place that seamlessly blended new songs with old hits spanning his prolific career from the White Stripes on.

He’s released multiple albums with other bands — the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather; worked on tons of other musical collaborations; continued work on his own label, Third Man Records, written a children’s book; and released three solo albums (all of which hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts), the most recent of which, Boarding House Reach, was released in March of this year. 

White, now on tour with that record, has been getting a lot of attention for his no-device policy, requiring attendees to lock up their phone in a pouch for the duration of the concert, and at Bell MTS Place on Tuesday night, things were noticeably darker, the typical hazy glow from thousands of screens now non-existent as fans focused only on the tiered half-circle stage housing White and his band, the only screens in the room being the three massive ones behind the musicians.

Right off the hop, White let his fans know what kind of night they’d be in for, walking onstage and launching right into a gritty instrumental intro with his four-piece band, his body flopping around the stage as he pumped up the crowd.

That flowed into Over and Over and Over, a frenetic and sonically dense track from the new record, followed by the White Stripes song Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.

The setlist was more or less a career retrospective and a very well-paced one at that, with songs from all of White’s projects popping up throughout and his new songs strategically placed next to old favourites — Corporation from Boarding House Reach was followed by 2001’s Hotel Yorba, the classic We’re Going To Be Friends preceded the new Respect Commander.

White is a masterful guitar player, and this fact is only amplified watching him live, often swapping guitars mid-song to introduce a new texture or a new energy. And when he hopped on his acoustic for the first time of the night, for Love Interruption from 2012’s Blunderbuss, a smattering of lighters popped into the air. No phones, no problem. 

Vocally, White was as expected — blistering. His mic, however, could have used a bump from the sound board, often getting lost amongst the sheer wall of sound pumped out by him and his band.

David James Swanson photo</p><p>Drummer Carla Azar has also joined Jack White for his tour in support of his latest album.</p>

David James Swanson photo

Drummer Carla Azar has also joined Jack White for his tour in support of his latest album.

In an interview with Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon earlier this year, White said he’s never been in a band this loud before, and it’s easy to see (or hear) he’s not exaggerating. White on his own is capable of making a fair amount of racket, but adding in the drums, bass and two keys players, it’s truly a force to absorb.

At the 75-minute mark, White et al left the stage, feedback still blasting through the amps on stage, returning a few minutes later (though it felt like eons) to wrap things up with a multi-song encore that included a supercharged rendition of the infectious Raconteurs hit Steady As She Goes and the massively popular White Stripes tracks Icky Thump and Seven Nation Army, among others.

One thing to be appreciated about White is that he’s purposeful; he’s purposeful in the reasoning behind his no-device policy, he’s purposeful in the way he plays, with confidence and passion, and he’s purposeful in the way he presents himself to his audience. He works hard onstage, energetically embracing his role as a solo performer, making it very hard for anyone to miss looking at their phones. 

Oshawa, Ont., duo Crown Lands opened the night. The pair produce pretty straight-ahead rock music obviously influenced by '60s and '70s heavy-hitters such as Led Zeppelin and Rush, but it's far from a tribute act; these guys have some serious star power in their own right. 

Cody Bowles on drums and vocals and Kevin Comeau on guitar and keys (that he plays with his feet, I might add) are clearly passionate and talented artists; Bowles has the vocal range needed to carry the intense, wailing lines typical of music inspired by that era of rock, and Comeau wails in his own way, absolutely ripping on his guitars. The amount of sound this duo creates is quite staggering, and they seemed to win over the crowd in record time, converting them to full-out fans by the end of their 45-minute set. 

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

David James Swanson photo</p><p>Neal Evans plays keys for Jack White on the Boarding House Reach tour.</p>

David James Swanson photo

Neal Evans plays keys for Jack White on the Boarding House Reach tour.

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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