It’s a sad reality that rock and roll just doesn’t find its way to arenas these days. There is no shortage of great rock bands out there, but the vast majority rarely make it past club venues. There are more reasons for this than can be summed up in a simple concert review. With a prolific career that exploded with his band The White Stripes, Jack White has emerged as one of the few artists at the arena level who also happens to play rock and roll. This is a role that he doesn’t take lightly, as was proven when he brought his Supply Chain Issues tour to Portland, Oregon on June 6th for a performance at the Moda Center that felt like the opposite of what one might expect from a Monday night show.
For Jack White, this current tour is about more than putting himself in the spotlight. Instead of booking one act to open the whole thing, White has selected a new up-and-coming act to rotate into the opening slot every two or three shows. In Portland, the audience was treated to an impressive set from Utah’s The Backseat Lovers. Though the young band’s albums tend to revolve around a more mellow slacker rock sound, in the live setting they let each song blast off into rambunctious post-punk with a touch of Kings of Leon swagger sprinkled in for good measure. Lead singer and guitarist Josh Harmon showed his excitement to be playing such a coveted gig by crashing across the stage and playing his guitar with abandon while his band mates maintain a strong rhythm to take each song to new heights. By the end of their set, The Backseat Lovers had won over more than a few new fans.
Following a quick intermission punctuated by a DJ/hype man, who played hip-hop and rallied the crowd like a modern-day Alan Freed at the Moondog Coronation Ball, White and his band emerged from behind a blue curtain already wailing away on the new song “Taking Me Back.” What followed was two hours of the band playing with a ferocious intensity, as if they were trying to scale to the arena while also channeling his smaller band formations as The White Stripes. Compared to White’s previous solo bands that found him exercising a bit more restraint, this current lineup is lean and mean with an ability to fulfill his mission to rock as hard as humanly possible.
As one might expect, songs off his new album Fear of the Dawn made up much of the set, with other solo material and plenty of White Stripes tunes thrown in for good measure. Songs like the album’s title track found White and his band unleashing a relentless bombardment of rock and roll. White would dig firmly into some of his wildest guitar antics to date as he charged across the stage backed by a blue-toned light show that properly amplified the intensity. White Stripes songs like “Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground,” “Cannon,” and “Black Math” would all benefit from heavier instrumentation and more depth brought to light by the addition of bassist Dominic John Davisand keyboard player Quincy McCrary, not to mention the unstoppable power of Daru Jones on drums. Instead of sticking to his blues-rock roots, White seemed hellbent on sampling from a broad array of arena-level rock. Songs like “Temporary Ground” drifted into prog-rock territory, “That Black Bat Licorice” was laced with hip-hop weirdness, and “Over and Over and Over” brought to mind Rage Against the Machine with a metal edge. While the show was certainly polished in an arena sense with a light show that matched the bravado of the music, White and his band also maintained a level of gritty cool that only the best rock and rollers can do.
Following a trio of encores that included his best-known Raconteurs song “Steady As She Goes,” the frenetic new song “What’s The Trick?,” and the White Stripes mega-anthem “Seven Nation Army” played with a beat-up guitar and a slide, White made his intentions clear. He was on stage to wave the flag for the kind of big rock and roll show that leaves scorched earth and melted faces in its wake, and this is exactly what he accomplished in Portland. Remarkably, the venue wasn’t sold-out, which says less about White than it does about the public’s respect for this craft. Anyone who cares the least bit about electric guitars and the power of rock and roll would be crazy to Jack White on tour right now.