Opener: The Black Lips
I’ll admit that I think the Raconteurs are brilliant. I have both their albums in heavy rotation on my ipod, so I went into the concert at Manhattan’s Terminal 5 knowing all their songs and most of the lyrics. Their songs always tell a story, sometimes with an ending you don’t see coming. We scored a great view up on the third level, looking over the shoulders of some bored people leaning over the railing. The screens were dependably grainy, so I was glad for the view. All in all, the show delivered few surprises, just a rock solid performance. Jack and Co. didn’t break till well over an hour into the show, consistently flowing from one song into another. Throughout the show, Brendan Benson was as subdued as Jack White was energized. Maybe that’s what makes them work so well together.
The Raconteurs opened with the title track of their new album, “Consoler of the Lonely” a schizophrenic song that also opens the CD. Like much of their music, “Consoler” takes what could have been an average rock song and adds a twist, alternating between two drastically different tempos and styles. A few songs later, Jack White took over on the keyboard for one of my favorite tracks, “You Don\”t Understand Me,” followed immediately by “Top Yourself,” a song of spurned love. Benson sang the last verse softly, over subdued, sustained chords, which set up the cowboy-styled opening of “Switch and the Spur.” On the CD, I didn’t enjoy that track that much; it feels a little too corny. But performed live, it connected in a way that I never expected, and it featured a thrilling guitar solo by White just before the final section.
When the band transitioned into “Intimate Secretary,” one of the goofier tracks on the first album, I was disappointed by the blandness of the performance. There was no contrast between sections, making the song one long string of strange lyrics and sustained volume. It was followed by “Old Enough,” a country-tinged track thanks to the surprising addition of violin to the band\”s musical texture.
The excitement of “Old Enough” led into a four-song section which was the peak of the whole show. It started out with a fabulous rendition of “Rich Kid Blues,” with long slow breaks after each fast section, leading into Benson’s slow, sweet vocals. A droning bass line became a downright creepy version of “Level,” with Benson and White trading extended solos. The final solo guitar line turned into a non-syncopated version of the intro to “Steady as She Goes,” the monster hit off the Raconteurs first album. Benson led the song with guitar solos in every break. The zenith of the whole show was a frenetic and powerful performance of their psychedelic blues track, “Blue Veins.” White’s guitar solo was almost overwhelming in its emotion, but he brought it down to a soft level before coming back crashing loud. White’s vocals and guitar playing were so over the top, he nearly knocked over an amp during an awesome extended coda that closed the song.
That was the sole break in their performance, with the roadies running around the stage putting everything back in place. The crowd was so energized after “Blue Veins,” they didn’t stop clapping and cheering the entire 10 minutes the band was off-stage. When they came back to finish up their set, they came out with “Broken Boy Soldier,” White frequently using a voice box set up near the back of the stage. I liked his use of the voice box (and what I think was a delay button hooked up to it), there was for no apparent reason a mirror attached to the setup. When he used the voice box, he turned his back to the audience and stared in the mirror. (My friend and I spent most of the walk home discussing various theories, most of them centering around narcissism and just plain old weirdness.)
The first words anyone spoke to the audience were from Jack, asking “Everything all right?” When the crowd cheered in response, the band broke into a sped-up version of “Salute Your Solution.” I thought it was an excellent decision, as the uptempo opening contrasted more with the slow sections contrast and made the song much more exciting. “Many Shades of Black” followed–hands-down my favorite on the new CD–but without the horns featured on the album, it lacked energy.
The show closed with “Carolina Drama,” a brave choice given how mellow its ending is. Most bands save their most exciting song or biggest hit for the ending, but the Raconteurs chose a slow, intense story to end their set. It gave the show a lot of closure, though, and we walked out feeling like we’d gotten more than our money’s worth.
Consoler Of The Lonely
You Don’t Understand Me
Switch And The Spur
Rich Kid Blues
Steady As She Goes
Broken Boy Soldier
Salute Your Solution
Many Shades Of Black