The Raconteurs, Jacuzzi Boys; Township Auditorium, Columbia; Aug. 20, 2019
I fear this will not be as detailed as I like to make my live reviews.
You see, before The Raconteurs’ concert in Columbia, my phone was taken and slid into a Yondr Pouch, which secured my device with a magnet similar to those used to tag anti-shoplifting deterrents on clothes.
"We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON," read the tour disclaimer on the Township Auditorium website.
An event staffer was posted in a designated area to release your phone and allow brief usage, but pulling mine out to take notes as I stood near the stage was a no-go. And as I’m one of those helpless modern journalists who can’t read his handwriting when scribbled in brightest daylight, I have to depend on my memory.
As the pouches would indicate, control was a constant in The Raconteurs’ presentation. Before their set, roadies — each clad in denim-dominant uniforms of jeans, tucked-in button-downs, ties and matching hats — capped the monitors at the front of the stage with brown, wood-mimicking covers. Part of the covers’ purpose seemed to be to make it easier to stand on the monitors, though Jack White was the only member to do this, stepping up just once, for a blistering solo late in the evening. The roadies also did an exhaustive line check before the band took the stage, and another uncommonly thorough check before the encore.
The lighting was precise and impressive, anchored by side-stage columns that threw out walls of brightness that were alternately bracing and immersive, transforming a backdrop that depicted beams cascading through clouds from gorgeous sun to intimidating lightning.
White, the famed White Stripes guitarist and prominent solo artist, sang into not one but three microphones. Clean and fuzzy vocal lines were set up at the front of the stage. Another even fuzzier microphone was set up so he could sing facing drummer Patrick Keeler, much as he would with Meg White in the garage-rocking Stripes.
The funny thing, though, is that The Raconteurs — which also include singer, songwriter and guitarist Brendan Benson and bassist Jack Lawrence, and which leaned on an additional keyboardist in Columbia — actually finds the auteurish White at his least controlling. And the group’s thoroughly fun performance offered compelling proof.
It was a good thing, too. Miami’s Jacuzzi Boys brought breezily sneering nonchalance in their opening performance. They pulled the nifty trick of sounding at once tight and loose, marrying the wooly textures and lackadaisical lilt of slacker rock to the insistent thrum of West Coast garage rock. There was nothing fancy about the presentation, just three South Florida punks playing rock music with the proper “house money” attitude in front of a simple banner, for a crowd that mostly had no idea who they were.
Jacuzzi Boys turned out to be a complementary choice for The Raconteurs, who seemed to relish rocking out together again after ending an eight-year hiatus earlier this year. It was as loose as you’ll find White, who played not in some fancy, fussed-over costume, but in a plain green T-shirt and black jeans. Throughout the set, he flexed his talents without getting showy — his engrossing, purgative yowl, half-snarl and half-croon, charged through the ranted verses of “Don’t Bother Me” and “Salute Your Solution”; his solos and fills that were propulsive and thrilling, marked by brevity and ingenuity, not indulgence.
Following White’s lead as he called out songs, The Raconteurs recalled less their laid-back, classic rock-leaning new album, Help Us Stranger, than the zany, maximalist veering of their 2008 highwater mark Consolers of the Lonely. The grooves mutated across songs, and the riffs and rhythms frequently pummeled, rivaling at times the feral intensity of The Dead Weather, White’s other band. The ballads, beaming and cathartic, arrived as respites amid the tumult. Indeed, while Jacuzzi Boys were a winning opener, it would be fun to see these Raconteurs challenged by the tenacious attack of someone like Ty Segall or the Oh Sees.
But perhaps the best thing White did as he steered the band was giving Benson plenty of turns at the mic. The moments where the latter singer’s cleaner, sleeker cry was presented in harmony or conflict with White’s were effective, but what was truly exciting were the string of songs Benson lead during the encore, particularly the well-paired gothic semi-ballads “Now That You’re Gone” and “Many Shades of Black,” to which he brought just the right wounded determination, especially during the latter song’s huge, impassioned refrains. His skill set is different, but setting aside fame and influence, he’s definitely White’s equal.
As with most of the band’s output, when compared to White’s other endeavors, the performance felt far from revelatory. But it was a hell of a good time, allowing a band that includes two prodigiously gifted rockers the chance to show out.