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Michael Bialas

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Red Rocks/Jack White Heat: High Art in Colorado

Posted: 08/14/2012 4:24 pm

Jack White might be one of the few rock stars today who can turn Red Rocks into a cool light blue hue while, at the same time, bridging the huge generation gap that divides families and fanatics of all types of musical genres.

Never one to sit still very long, the maestro in motion, who might be the best guitarist of his generation, finally brought the thunder of his Blunderbuss tour to Colorado's outstanding outdoor venue on August 8. The sold-out show was a vision of red, White and blue, with young and old, hipsters and geeks, male and females all there in order to form a more perfect union.

The reigning king of crossover (who else has worked with Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, the Rolling Stones and Alison Mosshart?) shifted seamlessly from the White Stripes to the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. Jack White faceThen he began touring in May in support of his first solo project, but it's not like him to stand alone. Perhaps as a nod to equal rights, White decided to bring along two backing bands, one all-male (the Buzzards), the other all-female (inexplicably called the Peacocks).

Six angels of mercy, all wearing white, took their turn at Red Rocks.

The sharply dressed White came out with white shoes, black shirt and slacks (imagine that) and blue suspenders and porkpie hat to match the colored light scheme. While he didn't officially introduce his talented wing women (Robert Palmer eye candy is so 1980s) until more than 30 minutes had elapsed, a generous White wisely shared the spotlight with each of them, three of whom contributed heavily to the top 10-worthy Blunderbuss.

Backing vocalist Ruby Amanfu (below, with White) was the sextet's sexpot, rubbing up against White while they shared the mic for the twisted "Love Interruption." Then she stoked the burning fire with her passionate, bluesy turn on "Take Me With You When You Go," keeping up with her bandleader's blazing electric guitar.

Jack White Ruby Amanfu backCalifornia drummer Carla Azar set the maniacal pace and kept it going that way for most of the night. Keyboardist Brooke Waggoner, called "the red sheep of the family" apparently because of her fiery locks, played a violently mad piano intro to "I Guess I Should Go to Sleep" and took a gothic church-organ turn on the eerie "I'm Slowly Turning Into You."

The remaining three also made an impact. Lillie Mae Rische, who White introduced as "that little firecracker on the fiddle," was featured on the Raconteurs' "Top Yourself"; Danish pedal steel player Maggie Bjorklund, whose own solo album, Coming Home, came out last year, was solid throughout the night, but particularly on the country hoedown "Hotel Yorba"; and standup and electric bassist Catherine Popper, whom White referred to as "that tall drink of water," brought some hard-rocking credentials that include her stint in the Nocturnals, a group led by another leggy bombshell, Grace Potter.

Of course, the chance to show off his co-leading ladies gave White time to catch his breath, even if it was for only a brief moment. Finally addressing the crowd almost halfway through his regular 17-song set, White said with a straight face, "I must admit that this painting inside the theater looks exactly like the outdoors. It's so beautiful, the paint job."

Realizing he was at 6,400-foot elevation, he added, "I've got to keep telling my lungs to breathe. I haven't talked to my lungs like this in a long time."

His ability to maintain the rapid-fire pace of a rapper that even adults can appreciate is as mysterious as the rock formations that surrounded him. Before his thunderous solo during the otherwise R&B/jazz-tinged "Take Me With You When You Go," this Jack-of-all-trades who combines Johnny Depp charisma with Tim Burton storytelling offered variations of the song title with the delivery of an auctioneer:

" 'I Love You When You Don't Love Me Back' or 'Why Don't You Ever Call Me Sometime?' or 'Last Time I Came to See You and There Was Somebody Else There.' "

Just a hunch, but his guitar heroics were really why fists and hearts kept pumping at a furious rate. It began with the megasound of "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," soared to heavy-metal heights on the Black Sabbath-like "Cannon" (off the White Stripes' debut album) and screeched to a crowd-pleasing halt with the much-in-demand "Ball and Biscuit."

Red Rocks crowdSwirling winds were strong enough to occasionally sway the giant Roman numeral III representing the figures that often are attached at the end of White's name. Yet that didn't stop him or his band from charging ahead with a 27-minute, six-song encore.

It opened with an explosive "Sixteen Saltines," but the highlight was a six-and-a-half-minute "Seven Nation Army" that had everyone all the way up to the 69th and last row staying in step by belting out in unison the ever-popular bass line.

White wrapped it up by saying, "All right, it's that time of the night, people. ... Me and my Peacocks here are gonna go drive through the desert all night. I couldn't think of nothing better, to tell you the truth."

Even an electrically charged powerhouse has to shut down eventually. For those keeping score, there were nine songs from Blunderbuss (excluding the recorded version of "I'm Shakin' " that kicked off the show), nine more White Stripes selections, three Raconteurs numbers and one Dead Weather tune that only a fervent follower could admire.

Many in the audience who spent most of the evening standing on their feet and enthusiastically singing along wanted to keep the party going, but only the heartiest of souls seemed ready to join in for the traditional folk standard "Goodnight, Irene."

Yet it turned out to be a charming way to leave with a peaceful, easy feeling, giving the artist one last master stroke with a splash of living color. Strumming an acoustic guitar, he was right in the middle of it all, watching his rare birds strut their stuff in front of a glorious backdrop.

There's no 50 shades of gray matter here. It's as clear as black and white that Jack White has it made.

Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more of Jack White at Red Rocks.

 

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