The problem with pop music is that it’s popular. Ever musician wants fame and fortune, but at some point, the quality of the music and quality of the musician seem to almost be subsumed by the idea of the musician. Like, I’m sure the Beyhive truly adore Beyonce, but do they really love her music and complete body of work, or do they just worship the aura of her? At a certain level of popularity, is it even possible to separate the artist from the art?
Which brings us to Jack White. Fronting one of the most successful, popular rock bands of the past 20 years, he became a Rock Star with a back catalogue of music that rivals Pearl Jam or The Ramones. Ever since, his actions (such as preferring vinyl for releases and playing home-made guitars) have cemented his indie icon status. While no less proficiently musically, he has definitely turned away from the catchier pop songs that made the White Stripes into legends. Yet he is still immediately recognizable, a name brand, a huge draw, and so, therefore, popular.
I bring this up because Jack White is not one to coast on his popularity. His concert at The Anthem on May 29 was one of the most punk shows I’ve seen in years, probably since the last time I saw X (the Descendents show I saw the Fillmore was a sing-along hits-fest by comparison). He exuded pure energy, prized musicianship over sing-alongs, and honestly tried to win the audience over by force of nature. The problem is, having been so popular and well-known, White will forever be identified with those famous songs (“Seven Nation Army” being the ultimate example). So when the audience cheer every maneuver (like the pre-show video showing a countdown clock), or go ape-shit at the slightest recognition of a song (e.g. “Hotel Yorba”), it is hard to discern whether they are actually appreciating the performance, or just mindlessly applauding because it’s JACK WHITE! Given those factors, I would have much preferred to have seen this show at a smaller venue, where the performance would come across on its own merits (related: does any big act even bother playing the 9:30 Club anymore?)
Some musicians reject what made them popular and dare their audience to go with them in a radically new direction (Radiohead, Van Morrison); others accept it and try to maintain a balance between old and new (David Byrne, U2); still others embrace it and make it central to their identity (pretty much every classic rock band). As Jack White heads into middle age, I’m fascinated to observe which road he takes. Even more fascinating will be whether his audience follows him.
- Over and Over and Over
- High Ball Stepper
- Hello Operator (The White Stripes song)
- Cannon (The White Stripes song)
- Everything You’ve Ever Learned
- Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes song)
- Hypocritical Kiss
- I Cut Like a Buffalo (The Dead Weather song)
- Love Interruption
- Catch Hell Blues (The White Stripes song)
- Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes song)
- Sixteen Saltines
- Ice Station Zebra
- We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes song) (with Lillie Mae)
- You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket (The White Stripes song)
- I’m Slowly Turning Into You (The White Stripes song)
- Connected by Love