Raconteurs: Rock, Solid at The Greek

The Raconteurs are a solid band. Not the colloquial “solid” that equates to faint praise—i.e., “solid effort, sport”—as if mere molecular coherence alone is commendable—but in the fullest, multi-dimensional sense of the word, as in substantial, united, without division, genuine. Solid on record, solid live—perhaps even more so the latter.

The four-piece so-called super group, augmented for this tour by Mark Watrous on keys and a mean fiddle, expertly executed a rapturously received short and tight set of capital-R Rock, culled from their 2 records this past Monday, the first of a pair of nights in town at The Greek Theater. The crowd was a fun mix, industry cool dad types in denim dragging along long haired offspring in ill-fitting hoodies and $80 Beckham jerseys, Jack White fanboys and their dates (Overheard: Guy: “You’ve never seen Jack White before, have you? He’s a hell of a musician. Gal: “…”)

Of course, the principle dynamic of the band is in the complementary interplay of showman Jack White and mellow dude Brendan Benson, who only once said “hi” all night, not that anything else is expected or needed. He’s perfectly comfortable in Jack’s bigger than life presence. Catching them a second time, the rhythm axis of the other Jack (Lawrence) and Patrick Keeler, both of The Greenhornes, emerge as every bit their equal, stretching out the songs while holding them down, swaying but never yielding. A crystalline mix—again showcasing The Greek as one of our best sounding venues—served them perfectly, even if Jack lamented the venue’s imperative to them to keep the loudness under 95dB. (A peak over the soundman’s shoulder revealed some peaks at [gasp!] 99dB.)

What ever can be said about the tunes themselves is probably left better unsaid. This is straight-ahead archetypal, mostly blues-based riff rock, with the occasional heady twist, played with real soul. White’s guitar playing is as possessed as ever (wish he’d lay off the pitch shift FX though) and B.B. wrings more out of that single blonde Telecaster which he stuck with all night than just about anyone I’ve seen pick up that Fender. Their stage dressing is mostly bare, save a simple curtained frame and silhouettes of bare tree branches, ostensibly referencing something vaguely old time-y, as the album art does. They are mostly all in smart all-black obviously taking Jack White’s sartorial lead. (Adorably, even the stage techs are decked out in vests and bowler hats.) The lyrics are mostly there in service to the song and don’t beg for investigation beyond whether the chorus hook works or not. They do. Always. (i.e., “Hold up! Hold up!”) Overall, the show doesn’t ever feel like an exercise in academic pastiche, as could have easily been the case with this much assembled talent involved.

Introducing the main set finale, their debut single and biggest hit, “Steady, As She Goes,” Jack joked, “This record was a big hit for us in 1974.” It’s a throwaway line that gets laughs, but that year would suit The Raconteurs just fine, their 2005-founded AOR style would sit well at the top of the Class of ’74, right alongside Frampton (when Jack does this thing where he distorts and chops up his own voice with effects, it’s like the “talking guitar” bit, by way of Mix Master Mike), Moody Blues, Ronnie Wood, Jethro and, of course, a bit of Skynyrd.

Setlist went something like:

Consolers of the Lonely
Blue veins
Hold up
Top yourself
Intimate secretary
Keep it clean
You don’t understand me
Old enough
Rich Kid’s Blues
Steady, As She Goes
Many shades of black
Salute your solution