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Jack White proves at the Santa Barbara Bowl that a phone-free show is a better experience for us all

Jack WhitePhotos courtesy of Jack White // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Jack White with William Tyler //
Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA
August 19th, 2018 //

In case you haven’t heard, Jack White isn’t the biggest fan of technology. Well, at least when it comes to some modern technological advancements.

Sure, White has been a self-proclaimed fan of Tesla for quite a while now. He was one of the first Model S owners in Nashville, which the Detroit native has called home since 2006, and just a couple weeks ago visited the company’s factory in Fremont, Calif., where he played a private show for its employees.

But the former White Stripes leader, whose old-timey passions for vinyl records, baseball and furniture upholstery are well-documented, doesn’t view mobile technology in nearly the same way. In fact, he never really has.

White first started to make his disdain for cell phones publicly known in 2014. At the time, he didn’t even own one himself (and he still doesn’t from what he told Rolling Stone in March for the magazine’s cover story). That same year, on the day he gave us his sophomore solo album Lazaretto, I caught White’s show at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. It was there that one of his stagehands stepped to the mic minutes before the performance and politely requested that we refrain from using our cell phones, and while most of the sold-out crowd seemed to oblige, there were some who still couldn’t help themselves.

Jack White

Pics or it didn’t happen, right?

Since then, our lives have only become more centered around our Instagram feeds, and for as cynical as it sounds, it’s probably only going to get worse from here on out.

It’s why White announced before kicking off a world tour this year in support of his third LP Boarding House Reach that all of his non-festival dates would be phone-free. But what does that actually mean?

Adopting the same methods that stand-up comedians Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle have employed for their own gigs, White partnered with Yondr, a San Francisco-based company that creates mobile phone pouches with a proprietary lock. Upon entering the venue, your phone is placed in one of their pouches and then locked. If you need to use your phone for any reason during the show, the pouch can be unlocked at one of several designated areas inside the venue. Think of them as smoking sections but for phones. That’s how powerful, and simultaneously obnoxious, smartphones have become for fans and musicians such as White, who has said that he relies on human connection and fan interaction to help guide him through his always-unplanned setlists. For the 12-time Grammy winner, the myriad of distractions that an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy offers is not only disruptive, but it’s also a major obstacle in trying to hold a person’s attention for any extended period of time. And, quite honestly, I can’t blame White for implementing the ban. If we could control our own impulses, then he simply wouldn’t have to do it for us.

Jack White

It hasn’t exactly hurt him either. You can say what you want about his cell-phone policy, but White has sold out the majority of his U.S. dates over the past four months while headlining many of the country’s most popular music festivals, including Shaky Knees, Boston Calling, Governors Ball, Lollapalooza and Arroyo Seco Weekend (read our review here) this summer.

So, on a warm, mid-August night in Southern California, White paid his first official visit to Santa Barbara. The White Stripes, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t make it to the coastal city during their 15 years together, so White’s show at the always-stunning Santa Barbara Bowl seemed well overdue for one of rock’s last remaining guitar heroes. The amphitheater at a capacity of 4,562 stacks up as one of our favorite places in all of California to see live music (read our First Times review here), even with the shows running on a tight schedule due to some strict curfew laws until 10 p.m. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for those of us who live in LA, considering that the drive back is often no more than 90 minutes at that time of night. But with White’s sold-out show in Santa Barbara falling on a Sunday evening, those who showed up made it clear that they weren’t ready for the weekend to end.

Boarding House Reach has drawn its fair share of critics, and I couldn’t necessarily disagree with many of the album reviews that I read when it was released in March. It’s undoubtedly White’s weakest studio effort to date — and I admit that as a big fan — but that’s not to say I don’t commend him for trying something new or different. Plus, I’ve come to realize that the more experimental songs like “Corporation”, “Respect Commander” and “Ice Station Zebra” play much better live than they do on the record.

Yet, for as eclectic and wide-ranging as White’s output has been over two decades, it’s the unpredictable nature of his live shows that makes them so intriguing to see. This time, we were treated to a rare cover of The Stooges’ “T.V. Eye” from their 1970 album Fun House, as well as a number of fan favorites, from set closer “Ball and Biscuit” to an eight-song encore that featured “Icky Thump” (with some amusing “Icky Trump” messaging), “Steady, as She Goes” (with a snippet of Richard Berry’s 1955 song “Louie Louie”), and of course, what has easily become the biggest stadium anthem in the world, “Seven Nation Army”. And though the show didn’t conclude without a few hiccups during some of White’s improvised playing between songs, he hasn’t lost his unique ability to surprise an audience — whether it means bringing out his mother in Detroit to perform “Hotel Yorba” with him or covering Pearl Jam’s “Daughter” in Seattle — at any given moment, especially when we all aren’t staring down at our phones.

Setlist:
Over and Over and Over
Corporation
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (The White Stripes song)
Missing Pieces
Lazaretto
Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes song)
Why Walk a Dog?
Cannon (The White Stripes song)
Broken Boy Soldier (The Raconteurs song)
Respect Commander
Do (The White Stripes song)
T.V. Eye (The Stooges cover)
Just One Drink
Ball and Biscuit (The White Stripes song)

Encore:
Icky Thump (The White Stripes song)
My Doorbell (The White Stripes song)
Connected by Love
Freedom at 21
We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes song)
Ice Station Zebra
Steady, as She Goes (The Raconteurs song) (with “Louie, Louie” snippet)
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes song)

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