He’s picking her up, throwing her down, having his every which way with her. And she’s loving every ferocious minute of it. Why shouldn’t she? Music’s been begging for a genuine riff juggernaut for a long while now, so his arrival at this particular moment is right on cue. In 2011 Rolling Stone published a list of their top 100 guitarists of all time. A younger Jack White ranked number 70. For back then, that’s still a tad bit disrespectful. Doesn’t really matter though. If he continues at this clip, he’s going to smash down the doors of the top 5 when it’s all said and done, because when it comes to playing guitar – nobody does it better.
Right now, no one else even comes close.
I’ll tell you about last Friday’s epic Madison Square Garden show in a minute. Before I go there I want to talk about how Mr. White got to today. I want to talk about the first time I caught a glimpse of that gritty genius, the sheer violence of his sound and that lovely bluesy side of amazing which sets Jack apart from any guitarist I’d ever heard live. On a hot August day in 2005, back when I lived in the glorious state of Colorado, I found myself at the beautiful confines of the Red Rocks Amphitheater. What ensued was the most super charged, electrifying, awe-inspiring performance of my life. There are not enough adjectives slash words to properly describe the raw display of guitar fury slash drum action slash rock and roll hysteria of that evening. Here’s the set list. Yeah. YES. Spend some time with this please. At least five minutes. It’s Meg and Jack in their absolute prime displaying some truly wicked magic (Click here to listen). None of it was expected, the next day people did not shut up about it and that night remains within all of us who attended. Red Rocks knew that it had seen history, we knew then that we’d witnessed greatness. So began the conversation in my head of where Jack White would ultimately end up.
Now we fast forward to a cold ass winter’s eve at a sold out Madison Square Garden. In the almost 10 years since, Mr. White’s resume speaks for itself: The forming of side projects the Raconteurs, Dead Weather, collaborations with Loretta Lynn (pre-solo career) , Alicia Keys, Rome, Electric Six (pre-solo career), the film It Might Get Loud, launching a hugely successful solo career with two number one albums in Blunderbuss and Lazaretto (which sold over 40,000 copies of vinyl in it’s first week), and headlining festival after festival recently, including this year’s Coachella. From then until now, he’s only gotten better. Friday night’s set was air tight, more polished than your mom’s china and equipped with an energy that was dangerously close to the day in ’05 I just mentioned.
His live shows are only helping to bolster his legacy, he’s hitting his groove. Ripping through a mix of White Stripes material, along with his own, Jack’s swag as a performer hasn’t only evolved, he’s showing versatility with his ability to cross genres and because of it creating more reach. Of course he showed off his legendary chord progressions and mean licks in “Cannon” and “Ball and Biscuit,” and that one “Seven Nautical Countries Militia” or something song everybody knows, but what’s more impressive is the talent he’s surrounding himself with. Over the last several years he’s picked up drummer and fellow Michigan Man, Daru Jones, who Jack has given a ton of responsibility to, enough so that it elicited this response from White: “Man, everybody else is cool…but I play to the drummer.” The opener on this night was Run the Jewels, who brought out a legend in his own right, Zach De La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine fame and later on in the set Jack started the encore out with Q-Tip as they played “That Black Bat Licorice” and Tribe’s “Excursions.” All true. It’s this eclectic approach, the opened mindedness to both jam with just about any relevant contemporary, but also make it sound good, that’s elevating him to the next level.
And it’s because of all that has happened in his career up until now, combined with a hunch that he’s gonna continue killing it, that he’s going to be one of the best of all time. Notice that I did not mention any other guitarists. No other names. I got nostalgic, listed off a few minor accomplishments and went a little into the diverse collective of artists Jack White has worked and is working with. Besides the cats (Hendrix, Clapton, Page, etc.) whose primes have since been left behind and legacies already cemented, no one is doing what Jack’s doing within his own era, so no one else is a part of the conversation. That may or may not be cool with you. Coming back to that Rolling Stone list from 2011, the one where Jack White was ranked 70 – a lot has changed in the four years since. If you’re still not convinced of the magnitude of his current dominance in this era of rock I suggest you find your way into an upcoming show and experience his brilliance for yourself. He’s come a long way since playing in his “Little Room,” but the scariest thought when it comes to Jack White, is in many ways he’s just getting started.