Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jack White + the Slow Build

My appreciation for Jack White has been a slow (albeit steady) build.

As I wrote in my post from a couple of years ago about The Dead Weather, I saw The White Stripes on Charlie Rose a few years ago and I really liked Jack White and the things that he had to say about his music and the creative process.

The White Stripes have been on my radar since their album De Stijl. It was our closing time music at the cafe where I worked during college, and we all loved it so much. It was like a big, noisy present after a long day of making latte after latte after latte. 

I've loved Jack White's other bands, like The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. I was even lucky enough to see The Raconteurs live when they toured with Bob Dylan a few years back. They were amazing, totally killed it (in a good way), and they looked phenomenal. I really love their style.

I even bought The White Stripes' 2005 album Get Behind Me Satan because I loved the cover so much. The apple. The red, white, and black. Jack White's sinister-ish facial hair. Meg's coifed do. I loved it then and I love it now. In fact, it's one of my all time favorite records. It's extremely rare that I love an entire album, and this is one of those rarities.

But somehow (and I don't fully understand it myself), my love of The White Stripes never stretched beyond De Stijl, Get Behind Me Satan, and the occasional song. Until now.

I watched the documentary Under Great White Northern Lights this past week. The film follows Jack and Meg White on their 2007 tour of Canada, which would ultimately be The White Stripes swan song. As I understand it, this tour preceded what was supposed to be a full US and UK tour for their album Icky Thump. Their last show was played in Southhaven, MS. The band stopped recording (with the exception of their cover of "Rated X" for the Loretta Lynn tribute album), and officially disbanded earlier this year.

Under Great White Northern Lights is one of the most sensual, aesthetically pleasing, and entertaining tour documentaries I've ever seen. It was beautifully shot. A lot of black and white (and red, of course). The live music performances are so, so good. Oh my goodness! I felt like I was there, you know? I may even like their live versions of songs more than the studio versions. There's a raw intensity and energy that I love, and White's voice has so many different layers to it that really come out in the live performances.

And not only did they perform the usual big shows, but in the afternoons (before the big shows) they performed a series of "side shows" in unusual or unexpected locations, giving people little to no notice (think local bowling alley, or city bus). Like an impromptu acoustic performance of "Apple Blossom" for (what looked like) one family with an absolutely adorable bouncy baby, at the Wildcat Cafe in Yellowknife. Very sweet.

I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves Jack White or live music documentaries in general. The duo perform such personal favorites as "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" and their atomically charged/very moving cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene". The movie closes with an extremely touching performance of "White Moon", with Jack at the piano, and Meg at his side fighting back the tears. Eventually those tears win out, and Jack hugs/snuggles Meg in very sweet and tender way. It's an intense and bittersweet ending to what I think might be the best film I'm seen this year.

And I'm happy to say that I now own it as part of my ever growing live-music-documentaries collection. And I'm sure I'll be watching it plenty this holiday season while I get ready for craft fairs galore! More on that later.