Jack White looked like he could use a break. Throughout his Wednesday night show in Honolulu, though he occasionally cracked a smile and appeared completely absorbed in his music and bandleading, he also seemed to have a hellhound on his trail — some anxious thought pushing him to put his Honolulu show together in an antic, unpredictable, partially improvised fashion.
His two-hour concert was a tour through his musical history, with songs reaching back to the work with Meg White in the White Stripes — "Seven Nation Army" was the last song of the encore — and up to "Lazaretto," the title track from his new album, released last year.
Near the beginning of the show, he stopped the music and said, emphatically and somewhat jokingly, "This is a true story … electromagnetism is involved. …
"I bring the levels up, and then I let them down, he said. "True story."
It turned out to be an honest promise.
The music could sound like a frantic patchwork, shifting from a brutal beat to a guitar breakdown to a country-inflected violin bridge — and that s just in Lazaretto. But that s true to the ethic he’s established since way back. Think 2007’s "Icky Thump," with its squealing blitzes of keyboard and guitar.
It s about ideas, and forward motion, and heritage — and messing with your head.
With his five-piece band — drummer to the left, bass player on both electric and stand-up next, lap-steel guitar behind him, keyboard and a violinist (sometimes joined by another player) to the right — he moved around between juiced-up versions of his early punk blues, Nashville-inflected songs derived from traditional country music and the layered, wild-yet-sophisticated music of his current incarnation.
WHITE WORE a suit Wednesday, just as he did as a headliner last weekend at Coachella, and had his hair slicked up into a cocky, geometrically-shaped pompadour. As with all shows on his current tour, the stage was bathed in blue light. But the shape of the music and the order of the songs had a spontaneous feel, with White moving in close to one band member after another, signaling he was about to head out somewhere, cuing them to follow along.
White didn’t allow photographers at the show, and I wondered if that would be because he’d become bloated on tour, like an overindulgent Elvis. Thankfully, White wasn’t — but his music occasionally was. Overindulgent, that is.
At times, as one of several interjected, jagged interludes stalled out momentum during a song, I couldn’t help but wish for the disciplined, relative sparseness of White’s Stripes days.
At the end of his two-hour concert, he said, "This is the last electric punk show I’ll be playing in a while." He’s about to take "a long break" from performing live, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday, but not before holding five acoustic-instrument shows in the five states where he hasn’t yet played.
I’ll bet his decades-long quest to bowl us over with the gale force of his inventiveness, perfectionism and finely honed nostalgia has been all-engrossing. I’ll also bet that it won’t be long before he’s back with another left-field plan of action.
Maybe he’ll turn more toward acoustic and country music, forms that have influenced him all along, as has urban blues.