“We Can Have a Whopping Good Time”
For the past year, I’ve read the buzz about Jack White’s new band, the Raconteurs. Brendan Benson, Jack and the rhythm section of the Greenhornes, the Raconteurs might as well been the definition of the word buzz. Unlike the buzz for Snakes on a Plane, when the goods arrived, they delivered. I listened to the CD repeatedly in July, fell in love with Brendan Benson in August, and then September came, and I fell in love again with Bob Dylan. I had heard that both were going to be performing at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, VA (DC suburbs) in November, and when the presale-presale instructions landed in my inbox, it was better than Christmas. Well, now that the concert is three days behind me, I’ll just say this: it was okay.
Kelli and I went (I only bought two tix) and arrived about 10 minutes early. The Raconteurs played almost everything from their album and more. The live songs are different than the live version, and they sound better now (even in a basketball arena, not exactly the place for stellar acoustics) then they did on the album. Jack was a kid in a candy shop. As Kell said, Jack White acted just so happy to be playing with the band, and so did everyone else on stage.
I always get a little sad when I go to a show and half the band looks like they are bored stiff on stage, the Raconteurs didn’t say much, they just played, and seemed absolutely excited to be on stage (granted, even though these guys have all been professional musicians virtually all their adult lives, they’ve only been together about a year, and touring much less than that.). They’re already tight sounding, Jack and Brendan were a lot of fun to watch together (Let’s face it, Jack White has serious chemistry with everyone I’ve seen him play with) and the music rocked. I’d read several reviews that Jack White was unintelligible, but I understood virtually every word he sang, even the songs I hadn’t heard before (I’m pretty sure we heard at least one new song that wasn’t a cover). Brendan and Jack sound even better together than they do on the album, and the covers: wow. The guys covered Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang,” and it was the coolest. In fact, superlatives don’t give the cover justice. The only thing that was sad about their performance is that most of the crowd didn’t seem excited to see the Raconteurs, or perhaps were just unfamiliar with their work. However, I think the Raconteurs were a perfect opening band for Dylan, just as OK GO was the perfect open for Rufus Wainwright last fall.
The guys looked good, last year when we saw Jack White, at first he looked creepy, and then inexplicably by the end of the show, he was hot. On Friday, dressed in black and salmon/peach, and a few inches cut off his hair…he was hot. Jack dwarfs Brendan, who I guess is all of 5’7” to Jack’s 6’2”. Brendan was dressed in a button down shirt, grew sweater vest and TIGHT jeans. Brendan’s has floppy light brown/dirty dishwater blond hair, and was looking good. Kell reports that the drummer was cute, and the bass player, while his face was hidden by some hair most girls would kill for, was really rocking out. The guys were all dressed up, probably for the same reason Dave Grohl donned a suit for the last time recently when the Foo Fighters opened for Dylan last week.
Between the two sets, the couple behind asked us who the Raconteurs was. We named off which bands each member was from and then casually mentioned the name Jack White (thinking they knew that was Jack White). The gentleman freaked out a little saying, “That was Jack White? That was Jack White? I bet your parent’s don’t know who Jack White was (they had 2 kids in college).
About 3 years ago, Kelli, SJ and I saw Bob perform with his band. All I really remember from the concert is that Dylan’s voice was intelligible and incoherent, it was really hard to tell what song he was playing (I didn’t know that he’s been tinkering with his songs from the time he recorded them—rendering the ones from the 60’s sounding often nothing like the original arrangements), he never talked to the audience. Really the only cool part about the performance was the band. After that show, I marked Dylan off the list of performers to see, but had no intention of seeing him again. However, I continued to listen to Dylan and gradually built up my library of Dylan songs. I watched the “No Direction Home”
The setup for Bob took about a half hour. Dylan was dressed in a black bolero hat, a black Spanish suit with a jade green shirt and a black Spanish style tie, his pants were tight fitting (I’d love to know who has the skinnier legs, Brendan Benson, or Dylan) with black buttons up the seam and he was wearing boots (the pants were over the boots). Somehow, he looked cool which re-reading the above description (speaking of height, Bob Dylan is officially 5’7”---I bet he’s more like 5’5”) seems impossible. His band was all in various forms of black suits (cowboy/gangster etc) with various types of black hats, of everyone on stage, the bass player was the epitome of cool. When he switched over to a foam green fender (I think it was a fender), my heart melted a little.
Since we had seen Bob before, and I had read various reviews of the latest shows, I gathered the following facts: if Bob is in a bad mood, the show is going to suck, his voice varies from being easily understandable to intelligible, and the quality of shows depends from night to night. However, after reading several reviews, I found that they weren’t as objective as they may try to be. In order to be familiar with the material, I quickly made a raconteurs/Dylan play-list for the ipods (geeky, I know but I suggest doing this—it totally made both shows that much more enjoyable).
Early on, Dylan seemed to be in a good mood. By the end of the show, he was singing more to the audience than he was to his band (he hunches over a keyboard all night which faces stage right, not the audience) which was kind of amazing since he spent most of the show barely watching the audience. He did play Masters of War (I had Jason Cahill overkill on that song that I haven’t gotten over yet), but he also played “Tangled up in Blue” (listening to Bob sing that was worth the price alone).
Bob’s voice sounded better in his newest stuff (I think it’s probably because of the way the songs are written in rough couplets than longish verse) than his older stuff, but I really liked this version of Tangled up in Blue. You can’t really compare the two, but the live version was just as cool as the recorded version on Blood on the Tracks. I adore the song, “Señor, (Tales of Yankee Power),” and his opener, “Cat’s in the Well.” Towards the middle, I was starting to get restless, but mostly because I forgot the inhaler even though I know I’m seriously allergic to pot, and I was trying not to have an attack or leave the arena for a sec because of the pot drifting from the floor. He closed with, “All Along the Watchtower,” which he plays like the Hendrix cover of his song, and the more I listen to that song, the more I’m in awe of the lyrics, even though I’ve been familiar with that song for more than half of my life.
From his latest album, “Modern Times,” he played “When the Deal Goes Down,” “Spirit on the Water,” Nettie Moore, and “Thunder on the Mountain.” I was hoping for “Workingman blues #2, (a love song with the line: “The buying of the proletariat’s gone down,” but was more than happy to hear “Nettie Moore,” and “Spirit on the Water.” During Thunder on the Mountain he sang to audience almost the whole time, (apparently he doesn’t do this) started dancing while his band played and moved away from his keyboard. Somehow watching an arthritic 65 year old guy dressed a little like a flamboyant Zorro was cool and not corny.
Bob Dylan and the Raconteurs didn’t just Rock the Suburbs, they rocked the ages.