Maybe there’s something to be said for zigging when everyone wants you to zag.
Case in point: Jack White’s third solo album “Boarding House Reach” easily has been the most critically derided of his career, delivering musical and lyrical “What is he thinking?” moments every few minutes in what could be interpreted as a willing attempt to challenge as many fans as possible.
And yet, the Detroit native is at probably the most commercially successful point in his career, playing to packed arenas and amphitheaters around the country on a tour that looked close to selling out Austin360 Amphitheater on Wednesday night. Rather than turning away, White’s fans appear to be embracing his “We’ll try anything” approach, which has grown unchecked since retiring the White Stripes and saying farewell to his once-promising side projects.
If White’s fans were seeking a musical mystery tour he comfortably wore his captain’s hat on Wednesday, letting the material from his three solo albums squeal and sprawl all over the place and dramatically reworking material from the White Stripes’ catalog with a four-piece backing band that at times rendered the songs unrecognizable.
The degree to which White was willing to bend and reshape old material was teased early, with a medley that featured snippets of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the Raconteurs’ “Broken Boy Soldier” and early White Stripes favorite “Astro” swirled in noise, feedback and a cloud of other effects from his two keyboard players.
That those came after two new cuts – “Over And Over And Over” and “Corporation,” which itself is more a musical idea than a full song – provided a contrast that would remain for the bulk of White’s 100 minutes: The new stuff is pretty far out there and won’t get messed with too much, but everything else is getting chopped and shredded.
It’s worth saying that as adventurous as White was on “Boarding House Reach,” it contains a flat-out great rock song (“Connected By Love”) and a synthy thought experiment that was a somber highlight Wednesday (“Why Walk A Dog?”) that should keep their places in the meaty upper middle of his songbook. If they have to share a set with the rapping misfire of “Ice Station Zebra” and complete mess that is “Hypermisophoniac,” well, sometimes we’ve just gotta pay that freight as an audience.
It helps that White was able to regularly follow the curiosities with moments of delight, such when the instrumental guitar shredding of “Battle Cry” gave way to a honky tonk reimagining of “Hotel Yorba” that chugged atop a new upright piano feature, with a mostly straight playing of the easy pop nugget “My Doorbell” providing a welcome 1-2 punch of familiar but not rote material.
By the time the send-‘em-home-happy riff of “Seven Nation Army” rang out, with the audience overhead clapping to the tribal stomp of White’s most defining song, both artist and fans celebrated the moment and the journey. A Jack White show is certain to be chock full of moments unexpected, with enough of the familiar favorites to keep both coming back again and again.
Over And Over And Over
I Wanna Be Your Dog/Broken Boy Soldiers/Astro (medley)
I Think I Smell A Rat
Why Walk A Dog?
Trash Tongue Talker
Connected By Love
Slowly Turning Into You
Ice Station Zebra
We Are Gonna Be Friends
Seven Nation Army