Jack White makes the case with two career-spanning shows at LA’s YouTube Theater why he’s more than rock ‘n’ roll’s last great savior

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

Jack White //
YouTube Theater – Inglewood, CA
May 31st-June 1st, 2022 //

Well, look who’s back …

When Jack White unloaded the lead single “Taking Me Back” from what would be his fourth album Fear of the Dawn in October, it was a signal to both his fans and the music industry that the 12-time Grammy winner was officially back (pun intended) with new solo material for the first time in three-plus years.

Sure, 2019 saw White put out The Raconteurs’ third studio effort — though just their first in more than a decade — on his own label Third Man Records and embark on a world tour alongside the band, but with the COVID-19 pandemic beginning only three months later and locking us down for the next couple of years, it’s fair to say the world has changed quite a bit since Boarding House Reach dropped in 2018.

That’s the last time White brought his solo act out to California (read our show review here), and it was around then that he started partnering with Yondr to lock fans’ cell phones during his concerts using the San Francisco-based company’s mobile pouches and having designated areas inside the venue where you can unlock them (think of it like a smoking section at any bar or club).

Of course the whole notion drew the ire of some who claimed White crossed a line and had gone too far to control his fans’ behavior. After all, you can’t please everyone, right? But while a phone-free show is a better experience for us all as I have previously argued, let’s be honest about what really matters at the end of the day: it hasn’t hurt his ticket sales at all. And for those of us who enjoy going to shows and not viewing them through a sea of six-inch screens, it’s a breath of fresh air to not catch even one raised in the crowd.

White has never been one for mobile technology. He still doesn’t own a cell phone — not even what the kids would call a “dumb phone” — and in 2022, that can sometimes make it a little harder if he suddenly needs a lift home from the airport or has to wait longer than expected for his doctor’s appointment.

Jack White

But White has survived without one for this long and so can we every few years he decides to tour. Because whenever he takes the stage, you never know what you’re going to get. Just ask his fellow Detroiters, who got to witness White’s engagement and subsequent wedding onstage to kick off the “Supply Chain Issues Tour” that stretches 62 dates all the way until late August — two of which took place this week at the 6,000-person YouTube Theater, the newest music venue to call Los Angeles home after breaking ground in August.

I must admit that this is not the only time I have pulled double duty when Jack has come to town. Nearly 10 years ago when White launched his first solo tour in support of Blunderbluss, he booked two gigs at LA’s historic Shrine Auditorium. After being completely transfixed by his all-male group the Buzzards the first night but eager to hear more, I returned on a whim the ensuing evening to see him perform with the all-female Peacocks and I’m glad that I did considering I got to hear him bust out Danger Mouse’s “Two Against One” and The Dead Weather’s “Blue Blood Blues” before delivering his best knockout punch in the encore with Stripes hits “My Doorbell” and “Seven Nation Army” as the final blow to the head.

Looking back at those shows in 2012, White’s solo career has taken some twists and turns in that time. He has made three more albums, produced numerous artists and even wrote a song for Beyoncé. But despite upgrading on this tour to more modern rooms — and it’s reflected in the ticket prices — like the state-of-the-art YouTube Theater that’s attached to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood and stripping down to a four-piece that includes Dominic Davis (bass, backing vocals), Daru Jones (drums) and Quincy McCrary (keyboards, samples, synthesizer, organ, backing vocals), the 46-year-old multi-instrumentalist has told us with his words and actions that he not only has the ability but also the purpose to continually surprise those of us willing to buy a ticket and take the ride.

“Every time I go in (to make an album), I’m trying to do something I haven’t done before,” White shared not long ago during an exclusive interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music that sees them visit his first art studio in Detroit when he made a living as a furniture upholsterer. “It’s not like something that other people haven’t ever done before. It’s just something I have never done before. … Whatever it is to get me to a different zone so that I’m not repeating myself.”

In many ways, the same philosophy applies to his live performances. There’s no doubt that White has his crowd-pleasers — particularly from The White Stripes’ catalog — that he still leans on, but you also won’t find him operating with only one setlist as he travels from city to city. Even if his live shows often begin and end in a similar fashion that creates a format for them and a brand for White as a performer, they nevertheless carry a dose of uncertainty and spontaneity.

“That’s what’s kind of cool about playing shows,” he tells Lowe later in their interview as they observe the empty lot that used to be the Gold Dollar where the Stripes performed for the very first time. “You don’t really know what’s going to happen. You shouldn’t know what’s going to happen I should say.”

Jack White

And with four separate projects to pull from now, Jack has no trouble filling out a setlist. He easily could play longer than the hour and 45 minutes that he gifts us, extending well past the two-hour mark, but at what cost? If it means preserving his health and longevity for many more years to come, I’m all for that. White, in fact, will be unleashing his second 2022 record Entering Heaven Alive this July, and given the early, yet strong reviews from critics who have gotten their hands (and ears) on it, future live audiences should eventually expect to hear more than just the three offerings — “A Tip from You to Me”, “Love Is Selfish” and “If I Die Tomorrow” — that we got in LA.

With the way rock ‘n’ roll has been holding on by a thread and White serving as one of the genre’s last great saviors, it’s easy to understand why he should consider playing the long game. Maybe that’s why certain non-Fear of the Dawn tracks — “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, “Love Interruption”, “Ball and Biscuit”, and “Icky Thump” — were even repeated, which was certainly a surprise to us. That said, there was still plenty of diversity between the two shows, with The Raconteurs’ “You Don’t Understand Me” and The Dead Weather’s “Gasoline” bolstering Tuesday’s affair and covers of both The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” as well as Jimi Hendrix’s “Hear My Train a Comin'” standing out on Wednesday. It was even refreshing to hear him unleash Fear deep cut “Eosophobia” and the LP’s latest single “What’s the Trick?” on separate nights, while the genre-less “Hi-De-Ho” featuring Q-Tip — with his lyrics played from tape, something White rarely does when performing live — received two rounds of applause.

Some might ask, “What’s left for Jack White to do that he hasn’t already done?” That’s a good question, and one worth pondering as we have more time to reflect on the impact of his work and legacy. But as I watched White like the modern-day guitar hero that he is rip into one hair-raising solo after another while he was in LA, I couldn’t help but think of the small empire he has built for the past 25 years not only with his own style and sound but also culturally with Third Man Records leading the DIY movement for music. What makes Jack so special to his fans is that he represents what it truly means to be an artist in every sense of the word no matter what he’s doing. Whether he’s working on a song, couch or business idea, there’s always a greater vision to his madness and an inherent need to continue pushing boundaries.

“If you want to do something new to turn people on and get people’s imaginations going, you have to blend different things together and attempt to break new ground,” the blue-haired singer-songwriter explains at the end of his hour-long conversation with Lowe. “That’s the place that I try to live in.”

For more than a quarter century, White has been living in that space as he has let his own imaginations run wild. And yet, at no point did he expect things would turn out the way they have, rising to a level of international stardom that he never dreamed of when he almost decided to become a priest as a young teenager before changing his mind to attend public school — and the rest is history.

“There’s never been a moment where I’ve been like, ‘Yeah, that’s a good song. People should like that,'” he admits to Lowe. “I have never felt that. It’s always, ‘Well, that felt good to me. We’ll see.'”

That can be hard to believe from someone who’s as accomplished as Jack White, but for those of you who somehow aren’t familiar with the man after all these years … well, where the hell have you been?

MAY 31

Setlist:
Taking Me Back
Fear of the Dawn
The White Raven
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (The White Stripes song)
Hi-De-Ho
You Don’t Understand Me (The Raconteurs song)
Love Is Selfish
Temporary Ground
A Tip from You to Me
Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes song)
Cannon (The White Stripes song)
Eosophobia (followed by a reprise of “Cannon”)
Fell in Love With a Girl (The White Stripes song)
Lazaretto
Over and Over and Over
I’m Shakin’ (Little Willie John cover)
Gasoline (The Dead Weather song)
A Martyr for My Love for You (The White Stripes song)
Love Interruption
Ball and Biscuit (The White Stripes song)

Encore:
Icky Thump (The White Stripes song)
Steady, as She Goes (The Raconteurs song)

JUNE 1

Setlist:
Taking Me Back
Fear of the Dawn
I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges cover)
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (The White Stripes song)
The White Raven
If I Die Tomorrow
Love Is Selfish
I Think I Smell a Rat (The White Stripes song)
Black Math (The White Stripes song)
Freedom at 21
Hi-De-Ho
Apple Blossom (The White Stripes song)
We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes song)
Love Interruption
I Cut Like a Buffalo (The Dead Weather song)
Hear My Train a Comin’ (Jimi Hendrix cover)
Ball and Biscuit (The White Stripes song)

Encore:
Icky Thump (The White Stripes song)
What’s the Trick?
Suzy Lee (The White Stripes song)
Catch Hell Blues (The White Stripes song)
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes song)

After 16 years, Smokin Grooves Fest makes its long-awaited return & blazes a new trail in Long Beach

Smokin Grooves Fest 2018 - NxWorries


Anderson .Paak of NxWorries

Photos by Joseph Gray & Natalie Somekh // Written by Joseph Gray //

Smokin Grooves Fest //
The Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA
June 16th, 2018 //

We are in the heart of festival season. This is a time of the year for music lovers that’s often synonymous with multiple days of unforgiving heat, dusty campgrounds and some young adults who are readily anxious for a mosh pit. The long food-truck lines and heart-shaped sunglasses, polka dots, ripped denim and tie-dyed garments that have become staples at a large majority of music festivals — particularly during the summer months — were present, but Smokin Grooves Fest offered a welcome alternative. And based on its history, Southern California concert promoter Goldenvoice wouldn’t have had it any other way.

For one day only, a sold-out crew enjoyed moderate temperatures at the overcast waterfront adjacent to the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach for Smokin Grooves’ long-awaited return. The event, which last took place 16 years ago, pushed hip-hop, R&B and soul to the forefront of popular music at the time by booking The Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill and a whole lot more when Lollapalooza and other rock-focused festivals weren’t showing them the same kind of love.

The crowd, relaxed with a peaceful aura but also energized, mirrored much of the lineup, which showcased veterans such as Erykah Badu, The Roots and Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) among buzzing newcomers like H.E.R., Smino, THEY. and Arin Ray across the 38-act bill.

I fall somewhere in the middle between those two age groups, so it was fitting that the uber-talented rapper/singer/drummer Anderson .Paak had just walked onto the “Free Your Mind” main stage when I showed up. .Paak, 32, wore a smile as expressive as his music, packaged with a bright nautical-themed ensemble. He effortlessly impressed with standouts “Suede”, “Another Time” and “What More Can I Say” off Yes Lawd!, his 2016 LP with Los Angeles hip-hop producer Knxwledge as part of their collaborative project NxWorries (pronounced “No Worries”). The duo’s set would eventually culminate in a playful dance-off between women, which fans showed their appreciation for before .Paak and Knxwledge said their goodbyes.

Many attendees went back and forth from the main stage to the two other aptly named stages — “Smokin'” and “Groovin'” — via an elevated overpass, where we overheard several praising the Brooklyn troop Phony Ppl for their soulfully funky grooves.

Smokin Grooves Fest 2018 - Miguel


Miguel

However, anticipation for The Roots kept me at the main stage. It proved to be a wise decision, as their nearly hour-long performance reminded me why the Grammy-winning band is still so revered after more than three decades. Black Thought got the crowd riled up with a 10-minute barrage of lyrical proficiency that so many have come to know as his “Hot 97 Freestyle” after it hit the internet in December and quickly went viral, while his bandmates exuberantly jumped with sousaphones and guitars during “You Got Me” and a number of other hits. But providing a jolt like he only can, the one and only Busta Rhymes showed up for a quick-but-memorable performance of “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” and “Pass the Courvoisier, Part II”.

The concert, nevertheless, was not without its faults, as some complained about the sound quality during various times, but neglecting hometown artists certainly wasn’t one of them.

Not long after the buzz around Thundercat’s bass-guitar skills subsided, fellow LA-area acts Jhené Aiko and Miguel were greeted with admiration. Aiko, for one, entertained fans behind flowers, acoustics and enchanting vocals with occasional curse words. Miguel, who proudly reminded us that he was from nearby San Pedro and Inglewood, kept the momentum, along with his fringed microphone stand, moving by performing several crowd-pleasers like “How Many Drinks?”, “Sure Thing” and “Come Through and Chill”, among others.

The event’s headliner was Erykah Badu, who performed during the tour’s second edition in 1997 and looked like she hasn’t missed a beat since. Playing a drum machine between songs while weaving some classic hip-hop instrumentals — one of which was Mobb Deep’s “Shook (Part II)” — into her set, the neo-soul queen dazzled with her seductive, incredible voice and responsive wit for an hour-long class on “How to Deliver a Full-on Show.”

Several journalists and photographers, myself included, mentioned at various times the need to leave early to avoid the traffic on the way. But Badu and others made liars out of us, and we couldn’t have been happier in the end.

Outside Lands 2017: Our 10th anniversary awards

Outside Lands 2017Photos by Marc Fong & James Pawlish // Written by Kevin Quandt & Molly Kish //

Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival //
Golden Gate Park – San Francisco
August 11th-13th, 2017 //

Outside Lands celebrated its 10th anniversary this August, and it was a weekend that we can definitively say had its share of ups, downs and unexpected twists. While many found plenty to gripe about, some took away a more positive experience, proving that music festivals and live music events are truly unpredictable even when you have some of the best in business at the helm. That said, the increasingly over-inflated market of music festivals right now can be volatile and may not be a cakewalk for concert promoters as more and more folks are drawn to large-scale events such as Lollapalooza, Coachella and Outside Lands.

Some stated that the 2017 edition of OSL lacked fireworks when the lineup dropped. Others said the lineup catered closer to the 25-35 demographic. There was no lack of opinions with regard to the acts that Another Planet Entertainment and Superfly booked, but it was clear they did have a vision and a bill that stood apart from the pack with a rare group of festival legends in The Who, Gorillaz and Metallica. Below those names led to further intrigue with the return of Queens of the Stone Age, Fleet Foxes and A Tribe Called Quest after a multiyear absence from the live arena.

But many now know that two out of those three sub-headliners were unable to perform for one reason or another, and while these sorts of things are generally out of anyone’s hands, they still take a toll on everyone involved in the days, hours and even minutes leading up to those highly anticipated sets. Alas, when you have such festival production pros who were backed by three insanely spot-on headliners, these bumps in the road can create something different than initially intended, yet equally satisfying.

So, without further ado, here are our awards from the 2017 edition of Outside Lands.


Outside Lands 2017 - Gorillaz


Gorillaz

Best three-time OSL performer: Hamilton Leithauser
One highlight this year was the debut of Hamilton Leithauser’s solo act on the Sutro Stage. Having played the festival in 2008 and 2012 with his primary outfit, The Walkmen, his set marked the rare occasion of an artist performing at Outside Lands for the third time, and while Leithauser did have to battle some minor sound issues, he rallied past them like the consummate professional that he is. Short of “Alexandra”, Leithauser exclusively dug into tracks from his collaborative album with fellow New Yorker Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend) by the name of I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. The spirited crooner still remains at the top of his game, and his vocal performance can’t be rivaled by even the best. One can only hope that this will not be Leithauser’s final time onstage at OSL as fans clamor to know what’s next from this crooning, indie god. -KQ

Best cameo’d performance of the weekend: Gorillaz
Easily one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend, Gorillaz’s Humanz tour made its West Coast debut on Day 1 at OSL. After a six-year hiatus, expectations ran extremely high for this headlining performance. On previous tours, the band’s members had played second fiddle to the cartoon projections of their alter egos onstage, but everyone was visible this time around. Several collaborators from Gorillaz’s previous albums, including Kali Uchis, Yukimi Nagano and Del the Funky Homosapien, came out to join them, and the Damon Albarn-led group still pulled some even bigger surprises with cameos appearances from De la Soul and Pusha T. The two-hour set also saw Little Simz deliver a blistering performance of “Garage Palace” as well as a string of radio hits that included “Feel Good Inc.”, Clint Eastwood” and “Demon Daze”. With longtime fans and a new generation of contemporaries on hand, there was something truly special about seeing a packed crowd sing along with some cartoon legends. -MK

Best reason to sit in Golden Gate Park with your friends and listen to music: Real Estate
Real Estate continue to tour off this year’s stellar LP release, In Mind, and they demonstrated their live prowess at OSL with a sphincter-tight set of jangle pop. “Stained Glass” got the show started for the rather sizable crowd, which only grew over their allotted time. The Sutro Stage has become an ideal locale for mellower acts to play for slightly-more-seated audiences, and this set felt more loungey than others even though fan favorites “It’s Real” and “Green Aisles” punctuated a strong, breezy performance from Martin Courtney, Alex Bleeker and crew. -KQ

Most in need of performance pointers: KAYTRANADA
KAYTRANADA’s debut LP 99.9% was a highlight from 2016, and the Canadian producer has been continuing his victory lap with banner festival sets all around the world. While there’s no denying the infectious nature of his tracks like “Glowed Up” and “Got It Good” in a large-group setting, we yearn to get a little more out KAYTRA when he’s onstage. To be fair, he has loosened up a little and will toss a quick little dance move or hand gesture, but he still really doesn’t engage his audience much, whether it’s in the intimate confines of Mezzanine or in front of 25,000 strong at Outside Lands’ Twin Peaks Stage. Kay, like many others, was pretty stoked for A Tribe Called Quest to follow, but we all know how that ended. -KQ

Outside Lands 2017 - Cage the Elephant


Cage the Elephant

Next “big” rock headliner (TIE): Cage the Elephant and Royal Blood
While the cancellation of Queens of the Stone Age was a blow a week prior to the event, the replacement that was lined up more than delivered a blistering set of rock ‘n’ roll. Cage the Elephant are now being widely considered festival-headliner material, and frontman Matt Shultz is making a strong claim for that accolade as he continues to elevate his stage act to near-Mick Jagger levels of pomp and energy. “Come a Little Closer” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” received hearty sing-alongs from a decidedly youthful crowd as Cage have become a favorite of Generation Z.

But Cage did have some competition at OSL, and these guys are moving at a helluva pace for the crown. Royal Blood have been one of the hottest rock acts over the past few years. I mean, their first single wasn’t even released four years ago. Royal Blood quickly rose to fame in the UK, then set their sights on Europe and lately have become the new darlings of alt-rock radio here in the U.S. with one of their newest singles, “Lights Out”. The bass-and-drums duo make a serious racket for only two blokes onstage, but they put on a show that rivals any full-band act with four or five members. Similar to Cage, the kiddos were swirling up a decent little pit in front of the stage while Mike Kerr belted out an impressive setlist with minimal effort and contributed to the low end in a serious manner. -KQ

Best use of Thai funk in a group setting: Khruangbin
Sure, many think K-bin (short for “Khruangbin”) have Thai origins with their Thai name (which means “airplane”) and their Thai funk-infused groove rock. But this rising trio that met and formed in Texas have steadily built a following based around an infectious sound that feels home both on the dance floor and at the lounge. Mark Speer on guitar is a phenom to behold; his playing style, coupled with his tone, has a true lyrical quality that’s perfect for the trio, which opted to not have a lead vocalist. It was clear that the band, like many fans in attendance, were bummed about ATCQ’s sudden cancellation, so they decided to bring one of their classics, “Electric Relaxation”, to life as drummer Donald Johnson delivered the chorus. Many chuckled and grooved to the track before the band jumped back into a set that featured “Mr. White” and “The Infamous Bill”. We can only hope a sophomore LP is not too far off. -KQ

Best use of a festival billing for a greater purpose: Solange
After a weekend marred with schedule changes and cancellations, Solange was the festival’s saving grace on Day 3. Despite starting 15-20 minutes late, she descended upon the glowing stage in a choreographed flight pattern, followed by her backing band and team of dancers, and segued directly into a soulful montage of hits from 2016’s A Seat at the Table, extending each breakdown with some interpretive dance routines. An outstanding cover of Thundercat’s “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” was seamlessly woven midway into her set before leading into an all-out dance party with deep cuts from her 2012 LP True. Solange then took a minute to touch upon the events that were happening concurrently in Charlottesville. As the only artist on the OSL bill to do so, she addressed the tragedy and utilized the stage as a final public platform before deleting her Twitter account the next day. The evening ended in dramatic fashion with the power getting shut off and the performance concluding with the crowd singing the lyrics to “Rise” in the dark. -MK