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Jack White Is An Old-Timey Rock Star

08/01/2014 05:25 EDT | Updated 10/01/2014 05:59 EDT
David James Swanson

The last time I saw Jack White perform, it was in a 6th street saloon in Austin, Texas and Bill Murray was dancing on a bar top with some comely lasses right behind me.

Needless to say, seeing the former White Stripes frontman at the Air Canada Center arena was never going to compare, but it was still a great perch from which to witness White's place in the musical firmament.

Jack White is perhaps our last great rock star. When he emerged in the early 2000s with ex-wife/fake sister/bad drummer Meg White, he was from one of many exciting new indie bands. But over the past dozen or so years, as his fellow garage-rock revivalists have fallen by the wayside and subsequent indie rock stars have shone more modestly, White has become the standard bearer for a forgotten music industry that abandoned rock for pop and hip-hop.

It's not often that a post-millennial rock band can fill an arena these days, much less on the strength of a solo artist, but the excitement that White still generates is palpable, even if sometimes he has a hard time generating it himself.

Eschewing the all-girl band and all-boy band of his last tour, White had a small but effective blue light-bathed co-ed band (notably including Lillie Mae Risch on fiddle and occasional vocals) to back him up, but ultimately the show was all about him.

Of course, it was also ultimately all about the White Stripes, as evidenced by show's bookends, "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" and "Seven-Nation Army," as well as most of its highlights, ranging from the adorable "We're Going To be Friends" to a jaunty countrified take on "Hotel Yorba" that he awesomely dedicated to Stompin Tom Connors.

(Which is not to say that he hasn't done good work outside his original duo -- the Raconteurs' "Steady as She Goes," his solo cut "Love Interruption" and the 70s rock jams that "Lazeretto" and "High ball Stepper" turned into were all show-stoppers -- but his White Stripes songwriting output had a quality control level that he has yet to match.)

Back to Stompin' Tom, though. It makes sense that White would know of and respect the Canadian icon, as he trafficked in the sort of authenticity that White has always fetishized. All of White's old-timey affectations are an effort to emulate, or perhaps appropriate, that authenticity. It's no coincidence that the Detroit-born musician relocated to Nashville.

But while you can't fake authenticity, motivation hardly matters when the results are this tasty. Consider White something of a Willy Wonka, albeit one who produced everlasting guitar solos rather than gobstoppers.

His world may be incredibly art directed, but that has little impact on his incredible talent and outsize charisma. And for two hours in Toronto, White reminded us of the power of rock's past and the potential of its future.

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