When organizers finally succumbed to the series of unfortunate (and likely avoidable) events that led to the wheels coming off their planned Woodstock 50 festival, fans and music industry insiders let out a collective sigh-groan hybrid.
Here in our town, we might not have heard it, so giddy were we in the wake of the announcement that, instead of performing at what would’ve been the “new” Woodstock fest, the Raconteurs would be heading to the Rapids Theatre in Niagara Falls for a far more intimate headlining show.
Unsurprisingly, tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale, those lucky enough to be holding a golden ducat taking to the social media airwaves to gush ecstatically about their good fortune and abundant excitement. There might’ve even been some humble bragging going on. Who could possibly blame them? This was a big deal.
In the end, the show more than lived up to the brief but intense period of hype that led up to it. For the 1700 or so lucky enough to be there, what went down will be remembered as an ecstatic celebration of jubilant, often edgy, just as often richly melodic rock ‘n roll. It felt like church, if church served drinks and pulled its liturgy from the great book of post-1960s rock.
Often referred to as an “indie-rock super-group” - which rather unfortunately conjures images of, I dunno, '80s prog all-stars Asia in skinny jeans, or something similarly disturbing - the Raconteurs exist primarily to afford stellar songwriters Jack White and Brendan Benson an opportunity to work together, with Cincinnati garage-rockers the Greenhornes providing the rhythm section in the form of bassist/vocalist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler.
That might sound like a reductive description, but it’s not meant as such, for ultimately, what makes this band so special is the way that White’s John Lennon-ish intensity perfectly complements Benson’s melodically incisive Paul McCartney-isms, and vice-versa. Both are strong on their own. But together, they assume a greater, higher power.
That higher power was in evidence right out of the gate, as the band exploded into opener “Salute Your Solution,” one of the many songs it would ultimately cull from the Raconteurs’ 2008 sophomore effort, “Consolers of the Lonely.”
A wall of chunky power chords that sounds a bit like early Who and Kinks run through an MC5 power-blender set on high, the tune provided the perfect opener, a clarion call to a generation of listeners perhaps unaware of who Wayne Kramer is, but perfectly capable of spotting killer riffage when they hear it.
As White and Benson traded verses, and the song moved through its several tempo shifts, punctuated by blissfully fuzzed-out guitar ejaculations courtesy of White, we got the feeling we were in for a wild ride. (We were.)
While White undoubtedly sometimes sounds as if he recently busted out of an asylum and stumbled upon a microphone, there is so much more to the Raconteurs than beautifully vulgar displays of raw power.
That became clear with the early-in-the-set, back-to-back placement of two more tunes from “Consolers of the Lonely,” the Benson-led “Old Enough” – power-pop meets indie-folk – and the White-directed piano weeper “You Don’t Understand me.” Both displayed the rich and variegated textures this band is capable of summoning and celebrating. It’s a broad canvas the Raconteurs paints upon, as these elegantly strutting tunes made plain.
The group is touring in support of its latest, third-overall release – and perhaps its strongest, pound for pound – “Help Us Stranger.” Though ultimately only four tunes from this new record would appear in the 13-song set, they were judiciously selected representatives, the first of which – the White-led riff-o-rama “Don’t Bother Me,” which suggests what it might’ve sounded like had the Stooges ever covered something from Led Zeppelin’s second album – acted as a veritable shovel to the back of the listener’s head. This was bliss, a sharply pointed pin bent on popping the whole “guitar rock is dead” balloon.
Part of the grandeur of a Raconteurs show exists in the easy-going interplay between band members, particularly White and Benson. I’ve seen White in many of his other incarnations – with the White Stripes, the Dead Weather, as a solo act – and have never seen him so plain old happy as he appeared to be sharing the stage with this combination of musicians on Friday evening.
What an incredible show, one we were lucky to get, and one we should cherish the memory of. So – who’s up for a road-trip? The band plays New York City and Boston, Mass., in early September…
Aug. 16 at the Rapids Theatre