The world of rock music is filled with super star talents who out grew their original band and left to find greener pastures. Jack White doesn’t live in that world. Ever the contrarian, the Raconteurs seem to be White’s attempt to retreat, even if briefly, from the demands of being Jack White.
The last time White rolled through Dallas we got the full solo no-holds-barred Jack, the “put the salt on your wrist and do a shot of tequila” Jack. With the Raconteurs, the experience is more like drinking a margarita. Sure, you can taste the tequila, but it’s a little easier to consume. Monday night at the South Side Ballroom, the band got the mix just right. A top shelf tequila paired with high quality ingredients and definitely shaken, not stirred.
Keeping to his tradition, White invited an important player from a previous generation, Hunt Sales, to open the show. Sales has a musical resume to die for, and has come clean from a 30-year addiction to heroin. Stubbing a cigarette out as he settled behind the kit (and lighting another midway through the set) didn’t project a lot of confidence onto the audience that Sales could make it through an entire set handling both the drums and lead vocals, but damn, he sure did. His voice was strong and clear with the perfect amount of been-there-done-that rasp. Singing while playing drums always seems like a pretty hard party trick, especially with the uptempo pace being laid down. Sales handled it like he had been doing it for four decades, introduced the band, played one more song and then walked off for a smoke.
The Raconteurs are touring behind 2019’s Help Us Stranger, and it’s hard to believe it’s been a decade between Raconteur albums. With several shows under their belts, including a weekend performance at this year’s Austin City Limits, you wouldn’t guess this is a project that occurs once a decade. White’s desire to blend in musically with a group of friends doesn’t keep him from being the center of attention, but it does give his performance more structure. Brendan Benson shares vocals, guitar and songwriting credits and plays Dr. Jekyll, leaving Mr. White to go full Mr. Hyde.
By his own admission, White is “not a singer,” yet the pairing of Benson and White’s voices is effective and compelling. The band’s latest album feels grittier than the first offering and translated well to a live setting. Studio gloss was replaced by fierce, attacking guitar licks and a volume that (for this author at least) you couldn’t have found in CD form.
White may have been slightly contained, but he was certainly not constrained. By the end of the evening, it became obvious that the Raconteurs do not dilute White’s talent; the band just mixes it into something savory and slightly more consumable, and one of the best live rock ‘n’ roll shows around.