Last Tuesday, The Dead Weather hit the 9:30 Club stage like a sonic hurricane. It is almost a week later and I am still completely, utterly, hopelessly gobsmacked by their incredible concert. I have been trying to process their over-the-top, in-your-face stage presence and pitch-perfect, rock-n-roll transcendence for days now; my entire music-loving spirit is still humming from witnessing this resonant performance. It was a performance that tapped into that deep-down love of rock-n-roll; that passion that dwells in the chest of every red-blooded music fan whose pulse beats to the rhythm. The Dead Weather put on a show that was a colossal celebration of the leather-clad, hair-in-eyes rock image and jaw-drop inducing, instrument-torture creativity. Their whole live presentation combined music and image so perfectly that it is impossible to imagine one without the other. Together these elements combined on-stage to create a brilliant set of music that I will remember for a very long time.
There is only one other band that I have seen this year that feels as huge as The Dead Weather did on Tuesday night: Muse. Both bands offer insane song-compositions performed live to the ultra-max with a level of showmanship that is rarely matched by other live acts. The difference between Muse’s arena-slaying, super-massive show and The Dead Weather’s humid, booze-soaked rockers is their optimal experience conditions. Muse is suited best for the large venue, their show cannot be contained by club walls and is best heard in giant stadiums or festival fields. The Dead Weather sound far better and operate as much more lethal unit at the club level.
I sampled The Dead Weather’s set when they played on the second outdoor stage at the Coachella Music Festival this year. They sounded good and weird but ultimately did not impress me enough to stick around. Their slow-going, dirty south style on stage made what I saw of their set feel like a studio session rather than a concert. The instrument switching and movement around the stage felt like casual jamming rather than proper concert showmanship. After seeing them at Coachella I was left with the feeling that The Dead Weather was more of a collaboration side-project than real-band and that they did not have much in the way of real live potential. After last Tuesday’s show, I am glad to admit that I was very wrong. So very wrong.
It was The Dead Weather’s new album that convinced me to go to the show last week. “Sea of Cowards” is one of the best albums of 2010. I love its continuation of the dirty, fuzzed-out attitude of 2009′s “Horehound”. Both albums are knock-outs and in constant rotation on my stereo, Ipod, and computer. By far my favorite Jack White project, The Dead Weather’s dark, hard edge and down-right bad-ass attitude satisfy the danger rock-n-roll illusion in the same way that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or Nick Cave does. It’s a sound and image that I love and in the past has provided me with some very fine, live music experiences.
As much as I like “Sea of Cowards”, I still went into Tuesday night’s show with that sample of The Dead Weather at Coachella very much in mind. I was expecting to see a laid-back show with a lot of banter, casual instrument changes, and some serious jam sessions. What I got instead was a high-energy performance from four teeth-gnashed, gnarly rock gods slaying the crowd with their brute-force, blues-rock. The Dead Weather’s club show is an entirely different beast than their festival circuit set. It is a well-planned and perfectly executed set of ear-drum pummeling greatness. The instrument switches were fast and flawless, the set list carried an energy flow so intense it sucked the air from the room, and the star-power on display was truly awe-inspiring.
In the press The Dead Weather may be more about Jack White than anyone else, but in concert the band is truly a 4-person unit whose individual sonic imprints on the music are unmistakable. Each of The Dead Weather members were performing at such noisy, attention-grabbing, loud levels that at times it felt like the audience was being drawn and quartered by their overwhelming presence. This on-stage battle of sonic show-boating was not only an awesome thing to watch and listen to, it also added a level of tension to each and every track that knocked them out of the park.
Jack White and Alisson Mosshart traded off singing duties throughout the night but it was Mosshart’s damaged-goods snarl that provided the evening’s most stunning moments. Mosshart was a wild-woman on stage; jumping up on her monitor speakers and waving her mic stand around, she looked like a 60-ft tall, mad-woman who would just as quickly slam you up against a wall and kiss you as she would slit your throat and take your wallet. Mosshart was on-fire all night, but the highlight of her vocals came during the two-song stint of ‘The Difference Between Us’ and ‘I’m Mad’. I can not understate Mosshart’s stage presence. Her performance both as a whirling mass of hair and attitude, and as lead vocalist was so incredible that it might be one of the best female rock performances I have ever seen.
Jack White was on drums most of the night, but he did come out to the front of the band on a few songs to sing lead or to wail on a guitar. Regarding White’s performance, I disagree completely with The Washington Post’s review of last week. If anything, Jack White seemed incredibly humble to me. White’s drum-solo’s, loud playing, and guitar indulgence were all parts of a show that was so huge to begin with that if he had not given that gusto the show would have felt unbalanced. White shared the stage well with his counter-parts and gave them all plenty of moments to shine the brightest. And shine they did.
Dean Fertita just owned the crowd with his killer guitar and keyboards. Every time he switched from one instrument to the other he delivered a surprising, dramatic new sound. You found yourself constantly anticipating his next noisy eruption. Fertita’s organ and keyboard playing absolutely owned on ‘The Difference Between Us’ and ‘Cut Like a Buffalo’. On guitar there were so many high-points that it was nearly impossible to track. Fertita’s playing with The Dead Weather is so interesting and inventive that I feel his name would get a lot more recognition if this band was his regular full-time gig. Jack Lawrence is really The Dead Weather’s secret weapon. Normally playing bass for The Greenhornes, Lawrence was (much like Mosshart) absolutely unleashed on Tuesday night. His bass playing was out of control and all over the place as he enhanced and often challenged Jack White’s drums for dominion over the audience’s dancing feet.
While Mosshart, White, Fertita, and Lawrence were constantly tugging at each other for the audience’s attention, they also managed to compliment each other in fantastic ways. Mosshart and Fertita pulled of some pretty slick moves on the keyboard together, particularly on ‘Hustle & Cuss’ when Mosshart flawlessly continued Fertita’s keyboard part while he switched back to guitar. Mosshart and White often provided backing vocals for each other, my particular favorite being Mosshart’s choking sounds on ‘Cut Like A Buffalo’. Near the end of their set Mosshart and White delivered a beautiful, microphone sharing duet on ‘Will There Be Enough Water’. During this duet, Lawrence switched to drums to free up White’s hands to shred a guitar. There were several moments like this that demonstrated band team-work at its finest.
I mentioned earlier that The Dead Weather are larger-than-life, much like Muse, but better suited for club venues than arenas. Comparing Tuesday night’s show to their Coachella set really proved that to me. The Dead Weather filled the 9:30 Club with a raging rock energy that made us all feel like we were captured in the heart of a raging oil derrick fire. At the club level, The Dead Weather’s hugeness suffocates you to the point that your only hope for survival is to breath-in their music and let it sustain you. Once you succumb to this, The Dead Weather completely control you. When their show is over, you find yourself wandering out of the club, somewhat disoriented, gasping for air. Adjusting back to oxygen-breathing is not an easy thing after witnessing the awesome power of The Dead Weather.