MANHATTAN—Since the first time I saw the music video for The White Stripes’ track “Fell In Love With A Girl” in 2001 or 2002, I have been fascinated by Jack White. Seeing him as a musical scientific genius of sorts, I have followed White throughout his entire musical journey, from The White Stripes, to the Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and eventually, his solo effort.
With time, White has become one of the most prevalent figures in the indie rock scene, and I have admired his eagerness to break musical stereotypes and disregard genre boundaries. However, throughout his entire voyage of self-exploration and musical fulfillment, I never had the opportunity to see White perform live—until recently.
Jack White was set to perform to a sold-out house at Radio City Music Hall on Sept. 29, 2012. The first of his two-day stay at the legendary Manhattan venue, the performance had diehard fans and critics buzzing. But little did I know that this event would somehow make the internet explode and eventually become the #JackWhiteDebacle.
First things first: White’s opening act, Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three, were incredible. Barely a quarter of the venue was full, and folks were still scanning for souvenirs and getting tipsy at one of the several bar areas in Radio City. But LaFarge, Adam Hoskins, Ryan Koenig and Joey Glynn hustled through their set with vigor, playing the best combination of blues, honky-tonk and good old American roots I have ever seen attempted. Touting a stand-up bass, harmonica and even a washboard, the troupe piqued the interest of blasé concertgoers and got people clapping along and hooting and hollering throughout their set.
By the time LaFarge and his crew were complete, the crowd was ready for White, who invaded the stage as if he had something to prove to every single man, woman and even child in attendance. The leading man egged on the crowd for their “poor participation” with snide comments like, “Jesus Christ, is this an NPR convention?” But it seemed like it was all in jest. While there was a fair amount of older concertgoers and pretentious hipsters in attendance that had no interest in going buck wild, the majority of the crowd was eager and willing to give White the contribution he was looking for.
From a musical standpoint, White’s live renditions of “I Cut Like A Buffalo,” “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground,” “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep,” and “Sixteen Saltines” were a whole other level of incredible. It seemed like he was intently focused on instrumental quality and balance in the monstrous venue. At the same time, though, White had the showmanship of a mad man, trudging across the stage in a brainwashed stupor and consumed by the paralyzing energy from the crowd and his backup band’s deafening instrumentals.
After White concluded “Ball And Biscuit” about 50 minutes into his set, he stammered a few thank you’s and left the stage. This unexpected exit had to be a ploy, right? He wanted to rile his fans up, come out again in a burst of metaphorical flames, and play until our faces melted off, right?
Couples sitting around me in the second mezzanine looked at each other with confusion and sat intently, hoping for some form of resolution. At the same time, audience members on the floor encouraged their peers to shout louder and even sing the opening melody to “Seven Nation Army.” Some security workers were even puzzled, telling the audience to stay put. But 15 minutes later, still no luck.
All the house lights eventually went back on. Sketchy businessmen in suits were pacing the stage and screaming into their cell phones. I could see them sweating from my seat. White was not coming back.
Throughout the entire debacle, angry fans tweeted about the incident, demanding an explanation. Some “sources” claim he was angry about the sound quality in the venue, while others indicated that he was displeased with the amount of scalping that was happening with his performances. Either way, he concluded the show sans encore: A big faux pas for any rock star.
Was I as mad as others in attendance? Not even close. I finally got the chance to see one of my favorite musicians perform live, and in terms of his energy and the quality of the set, he didn’t exactly disappoint. Did I wish I saw more? Absolutely, who wouldn’t? But I feel more empathy for the people who paid hundreds of dollars for tickets, or traveled long distances to see the performance.
When we buy tickets to a concert, we should not always expect a life-changing experience. However, we should expect the musicians we love and admire to try their hardest to deliver the best set they can; not walk off in defeat and frustration when things don’t go their way. Will trust be regained? In time, I’m sure of it. But in my opinion, the “Jack White Debacle” has forced people to rethink their expectations of the artists they love, and also has reaffirmed that at the end of the day, we’re all just putting our time and money in the hands of normal—albeit talented—people.