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The bright lights in the crowded Agganis Arena on Friday night dimmed and the crowd lurched toward the stage in one swift, collective movement, their arms outstretched, a chorus of screams echoing inside of the spacious venue as an eclectic grouping of fans waited for one of music’s most talented men to take the stage.
The opener, a southern duo called Shovels & Rope, made up of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, of Charleston, SC, had done their job in hyping up the audience. Their high-energy set was a mixture of folk, rock, and country. The pair held their own on the big stage, self-confident and full of personality, seemingly not intimidated by who they were opening for.
“We’re just as excited as you are,” Hearst addressed the audience toward the end of their set, referring to the headliner; the audience roared back in response.
But then it was time: six delicate-looking girls in simple dresses appeared, quietly arranging themselves behind their respective instruments: a fiddle, a tambourine, drums, an upright bass, pianos, and a pedal steel guitar, and then erupted into a musical frenzy as each girl pounded on her instrument and blue-white lights flashed, causing the crowd to surge again as they pumped their fists into the energy-infused air.
And in this frenzy Jack White emerged, walking calmly to the center of the stage and slipping his guitar strap over his shoulder, completely uninterested in the pandemonium caused by his presence. Instead of acknowledging the audience, he immediately swung into “Sixteen Saltines,” a guitar-heavy, catchy track off of his 2012 solo album, Blunderbuss.
The crowd, unfazed by the lack of banter, became a mass of head banging and dancing, reveling in the unapologetic, no-frills genuine rock glory that is Jack White. He didn’t have to greet the audience to make them happy; his level of cool was intoxicating and everyone packed in Agganis Arena seemed elated to simply be in his presence.
Following the energetic, electrifying performance of “Sixteen Saltines,” White and the Peacocks barely took a beat before the familiar, distorted opening guitar line of “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” from The White Stripes’ 2001 White Blood Cells filled the arena. After the throwback, they launched right into “Love Interruption,” a quieter track from Blunderbuss, with White crooning into the same microphone used by backing vocalist and tambourine player Ruby Amanfu, creating killer harmonies. Again, almost immediately after the end of “Love Interruption,” the band launched into “Missing Pieces,” a piano-heavy piece also off of Blunderbuss which gave pianist Brooke Waggoner her time to shine, while Maggie Björklund held her on the pedal steel guitar. At the completion of that song, White seemed to remember he had a crowd to attend to, and he approached the microphone and said a casual hello, saying, “It’s a rainy day in Boston,” with a chuckle.
And then it was back to business as White led the Peacocks in an exuberant performance of “Hotel Yorba,” another older track off of White Blood Cells, this time giving it more of a country twang with the addition of Lillie Mae Rische on the fiddle and Catherine Popper keeping rhythm on the upright bass. In the midst of this song, a pair of pink lacey underwear found their way to the stage, and without missing a beat White picked them up, still singing, and nonchalantly tossed them to Waggoner on piano, who threw her head back, laughing in surprise.
The setlist throughout the night continued to vary; following more tracks off of his solo CD, Blunderbuss, he also played a heavier version of “Top Yourself” off of his 2008 Consolers Of The Lonely CD from The Raconteurs. Preceding that was “Cannon” from The White Stripes’ 1999 self-titled album, the distorted guitar line that sounded so classically White Stripes causing the crowd to move in one synchronized, head banging movement.
From there, White treated the audience to a soulful rendition of “You Know That I Know,” the night’s version sounding significantly less bluegrass than the original from The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a 2011 collaboration album, with White adding a darker level to this song with his electric guitar and a hint of malice in his voice as he sang.
A good portion of the high energy from the show came from the excitement of the unknown; White made it clear early on that it was going to be impossible to guess which song he would play next as he continued to play tracks from Blunderbuss interspersed with work from his other projects, including a gritty, booming rendition of “Blue Blood Blues” from The Dead Weather’s 2010 Sea of Cowards and a sweet, audience sing-a-long of “We Are Going To Be Friends.” He then launched into “The Hardest Button to Button” from The White Stripes’ Elephant. When White plays, he doesn’t play to the audience; his guitar carries a dialogue with the other instruments on the stage, and the crowd gets the feeling that they are being let in on a little secret, lucky to be witnessing something so special.
White then kicked off the encore with the catchy, high-energy “Freedom at 21” off of Blunderbuss, but the real show-stopper came with the performance of “Ball and Biscuit” from Elephant, where drummer Carla Azar stole the show as she drummed so hard that one of the cymbals fell from her drum set and crashed to the stage. Finally, White played what everyone was waiting for; last night’s rendition of “Seven Nation Army” served as a more interactive version as he encouraged the audience to call out the now famous guitar line as he sang over them.
At the end, White said a few quick “Thank you”s, barely audible over the roaring crowd, and took a bow with the Peacock Girls before they filed off stage as the audience turned to one another, all in awe of White’s pure musical force.