At the Masonic Temple Theatre in Detroit on Friday night, at the tail end of the first show in support of his new solo album, Fear of the Dawn; hours after performing a jagged, silvery version of the National Anthem at Opening Day for the Tigers; and in-between verses of a whomping “Hotel Yorba,” Jack White turns to Olivia Jean, a member of The Black Belles and one of two acts who opened for White that night, and says, “I got a little question for you, Olivia Jean.”
Then he’s proposing, sliding a ring onto her hand while, with her other hand, she’s covering her mouth, nodding, crying, and he smiles, turns back to the microphone, and erupts into the sixth verse of the song: “LET’S GET MARRIED!”
The dudes around me are feeling it: they’ve got their beers in the air and they’re yelling “Wooooo!” like someone’s just scored a touchdown or some other sportsball maneuver. Which someone sort of has, I guess, but also: how are you gonna say ‘No’ with a sold-out theater screaming at you and the inevitability of that sixth verse ticking ever closer.
The guy on my left, who also has his nerdy little notebook out and, like me, has been scribbling away in it for the last hour—as has the guy on my right, and the guy a row down—they’ve seated us all together!—and he mutters to me, through his mask, “Hope it works out better for him than the last one.”
Which strikes me in the moment as somewhat nasty, so I say, just brimming with self-righteousness, “Isn’t that what we all hope? For ourselves? Every time?” and he shrugs, and we don’t acknowledge each other again.
All of which means that the show itself has gotten sort of sidelined. The actual music, in any case. Jack White— his face fishbone-pale, his hair popsicle-blue—puts on a fantastic show. He shrieks like a siren, a banshee. You get the sense sometimes that, on guitar, he is wringing these notes from a sodden fabric.
And while there’s a raw and spastic urgency to his playing, his face carries a kind of stillness that somehow—throughout the show—moves me. It’s a kind of private calm, a kind of inwardness, like he’s playing alone in a shuttered room. And then, at the same time, he has a reptilian, space-alien charisma, though maybe the astral vibes are coming from all the blue everywhere: his hair, his clothes, his guitars, the lights—we could be in an aquarium or a spaceship and I’m thinking, per Halsey, everything is blue.
His set opens with the first single from the new album, a walloping “Taking Me Back.” The band is Daru Jones on drums, Dominic John Davis on bass, and Quincy McCrary on keys—and that’s it, it’s just the four of them, and they make a massive, raunchy noise, and they’re so tight: it’s a kind of tightly reined-in shrillness, a deceptive reining-in disguised as unleashing. But they never let go all the way.
They run through some of the new songs and some of the old songs, the old favorites—“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “We’re Going to Be Friends,” “Steady, As She Goes.” “Words can’t express how happy I am,” White tells the crowd. “Everybody in the room so far—so far—feels electric.” His cover of U2’s “Love Is Blindness” is haunting, White’s seagull-screech dappled with sweetness. Occasionally you can see a stray exhalation of smoke coming from the crowd.
White’s strutting a cat-like prowl across the stage, and I’m thinking about his astonishing range—the breadth of his musical knowledge, the grungy thrumming garage punk but also bluegrass and roots and blues. When he sits down, for just one song, at the keys, he produces a bright cacophony of notes.
And then “Hotel Yorba” is tumbling out into the room, and White is proposing, and he’s carrying Olivia Jean offstage to the thrum of feedback. The writer a row down from me takes off for the bathroom (I’m guessing), and I bet that’s a decision he later regrets, because by the time he gets back, Jack White and Olivia Jean are actually getting married onstage. White has brought out his mother—who’s shielding her eyes to get a good luck at this audience—and Olivia Jean’s father, who says, when his blessing is requested, “…Yes,” like it’s an inconvenience. White brings out Ben Swank, who co-owns Third Man Records and is also, White announces, an ordained minister, and he’s just “gonna make this quick and easy.”
Which he does. And then White and Olivia Jean exchange a pretty chaste smooch, all things considered—and then back to the music.
The band ends the night on “Seven Nation Army,” and when White demands the crowd sing back that cascading line of “Ohhh, oh oh oh oh”s, they are ready for it. They are still humming it, still singing it, when the lights go up, and we crowd into the aisles, and even half an hour later, at the bar down the street, those “oh”s are still echoing around the room—and still, now, hunched over my cold tea and my oyster crackers, that’s the part I remember, and the part I want to remember.
Editor’s Note: White’s “Supply Chain Issues Tour” runs through the end of August. You can purchase tickets here.
Taking Me Back
Fear of the Dawn
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (The White Stripes song)
Love Is Selfish
I Cut Like a Buffalo (The Dead Weather song)
Love Is Blindness (U2 cover)
We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes song)
You Don’t Understand Me (The Raconteurs song)
I’m Slowly Turning Into You (The White Stripes song)
Ball and Biscuit (The White Stripes song)
Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes song)
Steady, as She Goes (The Raconteurs song)
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes song)