I’ve never been to Glasto, nor do I eagerly anticipate the lineup of great bands and artists each year. I don’t really look much into finding out about it afterwards. That’s not to say I’d never go, especially after watching the recorded version of Jack White’s live performance at Glastonbury in June of 2014.
He performed on Saturday just after Metallica and just before Robert Plant.
* Sidenote regarding Metallica:
Various online media reported a few weeks ago that Metallica frontman, James Hetfield, would narrate a documentary on wild bear hunting. This caused an uproar so great that Glastonbury fans did not want Metallica to headline the festival this year, saying something along the lines of Metallica not being in sync with the peace-loving attitude of Glasto. And what did Metallica do about this uproar? Not only did they perform but they introduced a new t-shirt design to their merchandise stock, one that depicts inserts of numerous criticisms about the band in various UK newspapers (see photos below).
So, Jack White played after Metallica, with Lars Ulrich (Metallica’s drummer) standing in the wings watching White’s performance. And what a performance it was. It was raw, loud and unfiltered. Chaotic even. White and his band, comprising of a drummer, bass player, pedal steel guitarist, keyboardist and violinist/fiddler/mandolinist, brought out the sun on that day…. literally, as it had been raining and pouring that whole day.
The music that Jack White played was a mixture of White Stripes and his solo material, with a couple of ‘musical references’ thrown into certain parts of his song, one such reference being to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” which was greeted with delight by the crowd.
When I said the music was “unfiltered” and “chaotic”, I was referring to the fact that the guitars were very distorted, the drumming was wild, the keyboard playing was frantic and even the violin was screaming at one point. Chaotic yet at the same time it all made sense. It all conveyed the mood of the song, the mood of the musicians, the mood of the crowd (and even helped lift the mood of the crowd). Pink Floyd (one of the great “prog rock” bands of the ’60’s, ’70’s, 80’s and even a bit of the ’90’s) were known for, as their guitarist (and later frontman) David Gilmour once put it, “musically falling apart…and then coming back together again in a song” and almost every song of Jack White’s set seemed to follow that pattern.
There are no smooth transitions between songs. There is no gentle intro. There is a howl of guitar feedback as White takes another gulp of wine/champagne from the large bottle, precariously balancing on the edge of a Marshall guitar amp stack. The drumming and bassline go toe-to-toe, bringing up the rhythm in each song, as White bangs on his guitar, creating distorted howls before kicking into each number.
“Icky Thump”, “Hotel Yorba” and “Black Math” are a few of the White Stripes’ classics that they play and “Just One Drink”, “Three Women” and “Lazaretto” are some tracks from his own repertoire that were included in the Glasto setlist. They came back for an eagerly-anticipated encore and treated the crowd to a couple of White Stripes’ hits, “Ball and Biscuit” and “Seven Nation Army”, albeit in a slightly, let’s call it “unconventional”, manner.
As with the rest of the set, the two-song finale was far from the recordings on the albums that probably most of the crowd present were used to. In all honesty, there were times that the music fans (except for the true die-hard fans) seemed a bit bored or maybe just unimpressed with these renditions of the radio-friendly hits they are used to singing along to.
White doesn’t really seem to care though. “You wanna hear some more songs?” he asked a relatively subdued audience at one point and then proceeded with “Well, we all hear what we wanna hear…” and carried on with his set. It’s almost as if he’s trying to loosen and get rid of the chains that he may be feel are holding him back after the White Stripes era of his musical career. He isn’t shunning it completely – his setlist is comprised of mostly Stripes’ songs – but he is constantly reinventing himself and his music (both past and present).
It’s this constant reinvention and musical experimentation that keeps him going and keeps the music selling and the concerts and festivals packed. And the concerts and festivals will continue to be packed, maybe not with fans of his earlier Stripes’ work, but with fans of his music and of the artist, Jack White, himself because every album is an experiment, every song a new test and every performance a wild and explosive conclusion.
* All photos – “BBC at Glastonbury”
* You can watch Jack White’s Glastonbury 2014 concert (in full), right here.