Jack White didn’t say even a single word to his fans at Radio City Music Hall last night, frustrating anyone who was hoping he’d explain why he abruptly ended his show there the night before after less than an hour, or, you know, apologize for it. Instead, he and his all-female band The Peacocks tore through a 70-minute set that focused almost exclusively on his nastiest, most biting material. Since White let his music do the talking, the only thing we can do is extrapolate from what he sang and what he played. And so…
1. He Was Obviously Annoyed
The whole show felt like a tantrum, with White playing nearly every song at a much faster tempo that made everything sound peevish and agitated, and like he was trying to get through everything as quickly as possible. This wasn’t a bad thing! White’s music draws much of its energy from a defensive anger, so he fully inhabited his snippiest lyrics. Even a song like “Hotel Yorba,” which is fun and cheery, came out sounding aggrieved.
2. He Resents Working For…Someone
White added a bit of the folk standard “Penny’s Farm” to the end of his Raconteurs tune “Top Yourself.” The song, which was famously rewritten by Bob Dylan as “Maggie’s Farm,” is a rant against an oppressor – in the original, it’s sung about a farm owner from the perspective of a bitter and exploited worker, and in the Dylan rewrite, it’s a allegory about breaking free from the expectations of the folk music scene. White’s decision to sing the song seemed rather pointed in context, but it’s hard to say who he feels oppressed by. His PR company? Radio City Music Hall? His fans?
3. He Wants To Be A Rascal
He also tossed in a bit of New Orleans R&B singer James Booker’s “Papa Was A Rascal” at the end of the Blunderbuss cut “Trash Tongue Talker.” As with “Penny’s Farm,” the bit White quoted seemed very pointed: “Well, yes, my papa was a rascal / Why can’t I be one too?” The context is very different, though – while Booker was singing about his rebellious dad bedding down a white woman in front of the KKK and getting with a Prussian woman in defiance of the CIA, White was just reacting to people getting pissed at him for ending a show early.
4. He Is Afraid Of Turning Into…You?
White’s rendition of the White Stripes cut “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” was particularly intense and vicious, with him belting out the title phrase with an unambiguous horror in his voice. It’s unclear who the “you” could be, but it was obvious that this was an expression of fear that he might transform into something he hated if he compromised himself even a little bit.
5. He Might Be A Little Sorry
Whether he intended it or not, the first line of “Hypocritical Kiss” sounded like a reflection on what happened the night before: “My temper got the best of me, and when I said that I mean I know every single thing that I said was true.” It’s not an apology or an explanation, but it’s such a Jack White thing to say, you know? Earnest in its self-deprecation, but kinda mean and passive-aggressive. He was extending some kind of olive branch, but wasn’t going to admit he was wrong to be so nasty to his fans. There was a similar vibe when he played “We’re Going To Be Friends” – his sweetest, most gentle song suddenly seemed a bit sour and ironic.
6. He’ll Play An Encore, But It Will Be An Angry Encore
After White ended his main set with “Ball and Biscuit,” there was a palpable tension in the hall as people wondered whether he would decline an encore a second night in a row. After a few tense minutes, he returned to the stage for a fierce run through “Freedom at 21,” “Sixteen Saltine” and “Seven Nation Army” before wrapping up with a relatively tender rendition of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene.” Those first three rockers were intense, even compared to the super-charged main set. To get a sense of it, watch the live video of “Sixteen Saltines” from White’s performance at New York’s Webster Hall from earlier this year. Now imagine that at triple speed, and with twice as much spite. Yeahhhhh.