By Anni P. Lane
The Raconteurs :: 07.23.06 :: The Warfield :: San Francisco, CA
A RACONTEUR – according to Webster's Dictionary: a person who is skilled in relating stories and anecdotes interestingly.
There is a dramatic calligraphy styled 'R' that fills the entire backdrop of The Warfield's stage in San Francisco on a Sunday night. A giant 'R' that stands for the intriguing word that Jack Lawrence (bass), Patrick Keeler (drums and percussion for Cincinnati rock band The Greenhornes), Jack White (vocals, guitars), and Brendan Benson (vocals, guitars) came up with to define their new band, The Raconteurs. And I stand in the audience, pondering... storytellers, eh? I wonder what kind of theatrical performance awaits us? Will Jack White be even whiter? Will The Raconteurs come out with painted-on bruises and bloody cuts like the photos in their CD jacket? Will there be different scenes to the set list, reminiscent of Neil Young's Greendale tour?
Maybe I take the name Raconteurs too literally then? Their album is full of simple lyrics that sound more like rhyming lonely-hearted verses of late-teenage poetry. Lyrics like, "On your hands and knees, underneath the pop up trees, digging through sticks and stones, looking for store bought bones" (from "Store Bought Bones"). I guess not all stars can be Bob Dylan.
The lyrics don't tell much of a story, and the most theater we see all night are cliché rock 'n' roll moves, like dueling guitars facing each other as they rip away at power chord after power chord. Also cliché is an ever-restless Jack White singing, stammering, swerving, shaking in that entranced fashion that makes him a great. He shakes over to Brendan's mic and often sings almost lip to lip into the same head of a microphone. It's very rock 'n' roll, but the logistics are a lot of spit and bad breath. It was cool when the Beatles did it, but The Raconteurs? I don't know.
But the music is good, and what they've got is an obvious love for playing together. These are old friends, which is something that cannot be faked. Oh yeah, and who is the fifth guy anyway? There is a fifth guy; he's on the keys. He would be Dean Fertita a guitarist/keyboardist who plays with Brendan Benson and on this tour with The Raconteurs. Fertita definitely adds to the sound, but he doesn't really stand out. He's a noticeable backdrop like that pretty big red 'R.'
Jack White by Ros O'Gorman
I can admit my interest in this band was spawned by my love for The White Stripes and Jack White. In my eyes Jack White falls only second to Chris Robinson as what a rock front man should be. I think they both came out of the womb with a microphone in hand. Jack White's talents are endless. He's clever. And if he could produce that much sound in a two-piece band (quite a feat) then I want to hear and see what comes out of him with three other instruments holding some of the weight (four on this tour.) I want to witness his side project that is "not a side project."
I headed to The Warfield with my eyes set for Jack White, and Jack did not let me down. He was everything I was hoping he'd be, tweaking his voice to be that perfect White Stripes sound on songs like "Blue Veins," playing the guitar with the intensity of a musician who hasn't already "made it" and still has something to prove.
But it was dueling lead Brendan Benson who captured my attention the most. His more unassuming stage personality was a complement to his captivating guitar playing, which was sometimes funky and rockin' like on "Level," then sometimes soft during power ballads such as "Together." There is something very trustworthy about Brendan Benson's performance, like he knows it's going to be good, so then as an audience you should assume that it is.
Brendan Benson and the entire cast of The Raconteurs proved musically strong through the entire performance - a performance that in its entirety took less than an hour. What can you do when you're a band with a song base that only includes one album. Cover tunes? Okay, cover tunes. Like "Bang Bang (Baby Shot Me Down)" by Nancy Sinatra and a memorable cover by Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy." Beautifully done, the pitch of Jack White's voice was perfect for that song, and it was musically tight as well, leaving the audience hands-out, palms-up, shaking their heads from side to side.
The Raconteurs live show was a strong hour of music, but by the end I was still pondering. Storytellers, eh? My conclusion - maybe not. The lyrics? A little soft. The music? Great, even when a little too poppy like on "Steady As She Goes." Is it any wonder why that was their first single? Hey, it's catchy. I get it. The Raconteurs may have a name that does not define their talents, but they do have a talent that defines a new and promising full sound. Just don't look too hard for meaning or the story.
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