Roseland Ballroom, New York, 9/25/06
The Rock Gods were smiling down the day The Raconteurs were born. The Titans of British Invasions past shook the earth, and Thor's Hammer struck awe into the hearts of Led Zeppelin worshippers and Beatles fans alike.
Seemingly forged in the raging fires of Hephaestus' furnaces, this quartet (they prefer we don't call them a supergroup) actually came together by an inspired stroke of luck in the Detroit music scene. All of them having had their own particular musical pasts (Brendan Benson as a power-pop singer-songwriter, Jack White famously of the White Stripes, and Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler of the Cincinnati outfit, The Greenhornes), each member seems to have found that certain something they'd been missing when they found each other. You can hear it in their phenomenal album, Broken Boy Soldiers, and best of all, you can see it onstage.
Listening to The Raconteurs is like barreling down a highway in the summer of '69, dust flying out behind you, windows rolled down, psychedelic pop and early heavy metal blaring from the radio. How did songwriters White & Benson arrive at this sound? I have a feeling it has something to do with Detroit radio in the '80s. Having survived growing up in that area at that time myself, I clearly recall the lack of any innovative radio stations. If you didn't want to listen to Lionel Richie, the only other option was the local classic rock station. So countless teens throughout Metro Detroit were blaring Led Zeppelin, E.L.O., The Who, Cream, The Doors, The Yardbirds, Hendrix and so on, during their formative years. Is it any wonder both White and Benson's sounds have heretofore had such a retro feel? Benson's melodies bring to mind the pop sensibilities of George Harrison and his fellow Beatles, while White's vocal style is straight up Robert Plant, and his heavy-blues songcraft is marked by wailing guitar solos a la Jimmy Page. Hear it here:
"Store Bought Bones"
Hear a supremely hummable pop tune that makes you just plain feel good to sing along with, dark lyrics be damned? Most likely it's one of Brendan's. Hear a moody attack of scorching blues riffs and often-complicated time changes in an epic expanse of sonic jams and howls? Chances are it's one of Jack's. Their two styles are like blood brothers, anchored to each other by their equally gifted rock 'n' roll siblings, drummer Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence. Jack White has been allbut crying out for some low end to accompany the often piercing high end of both his vocals and his guitar sound. And this rhythm section delivers. Hallelujah, I've been waiting so long to hear Jack White backed by a real band. And now he has a fellow storyteller with whom he spins yarns in tightly constructed psychedelic harmonies. Thank the Rock Gods that he finally found his fellow Raconteurs. Witness and believe:
As brilliant as their album may be, there is nothing like seeing The Raconteurs live. However grandiose a claim this may seem, I am convinced this tour will have been the highlight of a year already heady and threaded end-to-end with phenomenal tours. The one word to describe The Raconteurs live? "Epic." And so it was at their sold-out show at New York's Roseland Ballroom on 9/25. All present that night will agree, we witnessed something extraordinary.
Not only did they deliver all their soaring crowd-pleasers and moody groovers with unflagging high energy, but they were damned fun to watch, too. Each of them has a markedly different performing personality. While Benson voices most of the power-pop, he has a face that expresses a deep ache within. And though White voices the howling ragers, his face expresses jubilant, playful enthusiasm. They are the yin and the yang of The Raconteurs.
Patrick Keeler is a joy to behold. Not a heavy hitter along the lines of a John Bonham, he somehow delivers the same kind of punch and heft of his forebear. His timing is impeccable, his execution is on fire, and he anchors "the feel," thriving equally in sync throughout the epic jams as during the highly crafted and tightly wound time changes. Having seen him perform, I now listen to The Raconteurs in a whole new way.
Jack Lawrence is an enigma. But in a good way. In fact, I think he cultivates the image. Always a mystery in every publicity shot, veiled behind a curtain of long black hair, it's as though he's hiding from prying eyes. I imagined I would find a shy, retiring guy, barely visible behind his bass cabs. But huzzah, no! Lawrence comes alive on stage. He's animated and downright expressive. We watch the music come through both his bass and his body, with each bridge, chorus and key change. His delivery is artful and perfectly in tune with the retro tone. If Keeler is the anchor, Lawrence's gorgeous blues bass lines are the roots.
But honor must be paid to the one unsung member of the band: their touring keyboardist, Dean Fertita. With the sound of a Hammond Organ straight out of the '60s, he delivers the lighthearted buoyancy that carries The Raconteurs' sound straight across the pond to the origin of the British Invasion. Hear it here:
During an unforgettable evening in which every last song was a highlight, two rose above the rest as real mind-blowers. For me, the most unlikely mind-melt came in the form of their album closer, "Blue Veins." Previously my least favorite song on the album, their searing delivery revealed it for the melancholy ode to the blues that it is at its core. It's now one of my favorites. I love it when that kind of perception change happens.
Topping that was a surprise cover of the Sonny Bono-penned classic, "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)." Made famous by Cher, and later turned into a cult classic by the use of Nancy Sinatra's rendition in Kill Bill, The Raconteurs morph it into a slow-building, acid rock barn-burner. Blistering solos by both Benson and White punctuate the wildly varying dynamics between the chorus and the verses. Witness and believe:
"Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)"
Any who missed their headlining roadshow before they took off across the pond for a series of UK shows will have another chance to catch the Racs stateside. They will return at the end of October to embark on a tour with the man, the myth, the legend, and a God of Rock himself, Bob Dylan. It's an opportunity we mere mortals shouldn't miss.
"Steady As She Goes"