The Raconteurs

July 28, 2006 § Leave a comment

by Cat Pilgrim

Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel vs Brixton Academy, January 2007

By now, everybody has heard of The Raconteurs. Those of you who haven’t…I don’t quite know what to say. They were the house band for this year’s VMAs. You can’t swing a cat on MTV without hitting a VMA reprise.

The band’s most common misnomer is ‘Jack White’s Side-Project’. Let’s take a cold shower with him for the moment. The Raconteurs are a 4-piece rock ‘n roll killing machine; Pat Keeler and Jack Lawrence, both formerly of the Greenhornes, teamed up with solo singer/songwriter Brendan Benson (as in, THE Brendan Benson, of Brendan Benson Fame, who can rock skinny jeans like Pete Doherty rocks the crack pipe) and…the ubiquitous White Stripes front-man Jack White. Together, they form a highly competent super group with some endearing back story along the lines of “aw, shucks, we’re just all old buddies jammin’ in a garage.” The “aw, shucks, we don’t know our own strength” mentality coupled with heady blues overtones basically promotes itself, and SOMEHOW manages to be acceptable by Hipsters and Old Folk alike. How much do they rock live? The following is basically a love letter, so stop reading now if you have a sensitive stomach.

Brixton Academy was completely sold out, and it’s not a small place. The age range of the crowd spoke to the universal appeal of Broken Boy Soldiers. I know rock ‘n’ roll isn’t officially the exclusive preserve of the young, but come on. The judgmental jerk in me refuses to accept being hit in the face by the pony tail of an overweight middle-aged dude sporting a Velvet Revolver t-shirt. However, it was comforting to have something in common with such a diverse group. Maybe we aren’t so different after all…

A few weeks ago I saw The Raconteurs at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Rhode Island. In that smallish-capacity venue I was lucky enough to weasel my way to the front, where Raconteur Sweat soaked the crowd, every drop a shock of adrenaline to the skin. The pit was an animal, feeding on Raconteur Energy at close range, and the frenzied enthusiasm fans rewarded the band seemed to have a direct correlation with their proximity to the stage. This time, in the interest of conducting a highly scientific experiment, Ruth accidentally booked us general admission balcony tickets. If The Raconteurs can inspire that same contagious rock ‘n roll frenzy from the people packed in the rafters, then they are truly as cool as Ruth, who proofed this article and wants to make it known that she never makes mistakes.

Thus situated, we took our perch and started judging.

The balcony was mostly populated with Old Folk and Stoners. The Hipsters and Insolent Youth took the floor. Ruth and I arrived a bit late, managing to find seats only minutes before The Raconteurs took the stage. The view wasn’t all that bad; Brixton’s upper circle is set on a fairly sharp slope, giving each row a significant height advantage over the one previous. It is an old venue, the walls and ceiling above the stage plastered over with artificial balconies and columns drawing inspiration from some garishly overdone Roman temple/Romeo and Juliet. The best part of the décor is the artificial vines someone twisted around the peeling balustrades and columns. They shook dust with every pound of Pat Keeler’s bass drum.

You can say a lot of things about Brixton Academy, but you can’t complain about the acoustics. Nicotine-stained walls bounced applause to every corner of the room until it became a thunderous roar. Slowly, the amps emitted faint strains of western music, which built up bigger and bigger until it sounded like a superhero theme song. I jumped up eagerly as the heroes themselves EMERGED from dark obscurity and seized their rightful place in front of the crowd. With no further ado, they ripped into ‘Intimate Secretary’ and never looked back…

It was like the day Coca Cola was invented! Everyone was OVERCOME! No one knew how to react to the sheer ELECTRICITY! Most people threw themselves into the most extreme dance moves allowed by the balcony environs, but the middle-aged dear next to me decided this was an opportune moment to sneak a cheeky fag. She lit up, and then the excitement CAUGHT her…so she contented herself with waving it in my face as she joined the scream-along.

The band exercised complete control over a crowd who knew the timing and lyrics of every song from Broken Boy Soldiers. Intros were slowed down and drawn out, gradually escalating into explosive renditions of the album recordings. Solos were extended and punctuated by complete stops; the crowd would start their applause, only to find themselves interrupting another verse. In this way, the band toyed with the crowd throughout the entire show, and everyone loved the abuse.

Although the band members stress that they are all of equal importance, Jack White established himself as the group’s centre-piece early on. In Rhode Island, White and Benson shared a dual-front man role, but in London, Benson seemed content chilling by the drums with Pat while Jack pranced around stage. The yin and yang presented by White and Benson perfectly balance the act. Brendan’s more reserved, precise vocals cut through the static distortion like a ringing scalpel knife. Jack’s impassioned, tuneful howls fray the edges, charging every note of Benson’s crystal clear melodies with raw harmonies. Clever thumping bass lines underpin the wailing guitars, bridging and complimenting the gap between melody and rhythm.

The most notable attribute is the band’s chemistry; all four are genuinely excited about the music they are playing. They love it. They smile at each other, they share microphones, they make playful jabs at each other’s instruments – the show is a delightful orgy of brotherhood and rock ‘n roll. All three axe-wielding members draw significant energy from drummer Pat Keller. The group could be found huddled around the drum kit nearly as often as they frolicked around the stage.

They ran through a few originals that haven’t yet been recorded. It made me REALLY regret not signing up for a live CD. By the time the band left the stage (after about 45 minutes), Madame Cancer Stick was fully loaded and boisterous. “THEY DIDN’T PLAY ‘STEADY AS SHE GOES’!!!!” she trilled indignantly, furiously wafting smoke into my face. Even the gentlemen in front of me appeared confused. I slapped Cancer Stick across the face with my gloves to assure her that there will be an encore. There is always an encore.

Like clockwork, the band came back, and, right on schedule, launched into a high-octane rendition of ‘Steady As She Goes’. The enormity of the song inflated and pressed against the walls of Brixton Academy like a helium balloon, engulfing everyone in a giddily high-pitched sing-along.

The encore lasted another 30 minutes, and ended on ‘Hands’, which rocked. I loved it. Ruth loved it. The Hipsters loved it, but not as much as they love Deerhoof. The Stoners loved it. The mosh pit loved it. The bouncers loved it. The Insolent Youth loved it. Even the aging plastic vines rattling precariously against the crumbled plasterwork on the walls loved it. We all basked in the loving afterglow as we watched the roadies pack up the gear, content to say our socks were rocked off.

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