Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Jack White Released 2 Studio Albums This Year and Went on a Cartoonishly Large World Tour, What Am I Supposed to Do Other Than Write 1,882 Words About It?

I read this really good book awhile ago. It was called Federer and Me, by William Skidelsky, and it was sort of a biography about the tennis player, Roger Federer, but it was mostly about Skidelsky's obsession with the tennis player, and more than that, it was a reflection on obsession itself. What does it mean to be a super-fan? What did it mean, for Skidelsky to go watch Federer play while his wife was in the hospital delivering their first child? What does it mean that she not only anticipated that, but encouraged it?

I don't think obsession is something only one person can hold. For example, back in October when news broke that 1996 cinema masterpiece Twister would be getting a sequel - tentatively titled Twisters (lol) people popped up out of the woodwork to share that news with me. People I hadn't talked to in years remembered that I was obsessed, that obsession in some way effected them, and here we are, years later, talking about a blockbuster movie about an unlikely storm cell and how it rekindled a love gone cold. Another, perhaps more pertinent example, would be that Jack White released two new studio albums and went on a cartoonishly large world tour this year. The first handful of times I left Ben at home to go do something that wasn't work or getting him diapers or us food, was to wait in line outside of Third Man Records Cass Corridor for some Jack White vinyl, or, twice in one weekend, to see Jack White open the Supply Chain Issues Tour at the Masonic Temple. There wasn't really much conversation about it; Rachel knew I was going, I knew I was going, so I went. I like to think I made it up to her staying up a little extra in the nights leading up to, and after, those shows. But I also like to think she was happy to see me happy. Even after we left Detroit, friends in the orbit of my obsession were running down to the record store to get exclusive copies of singles, of albums, of printed lyric hymnals (thank you Aunt Nicole, Ayah, and others!). Shit, my local record store dude even staged some pictures of me and a very special Jack White fan at Spoonful.

This is all to say, I'm glad my obsession isn't a secret, I'm glad everybody I know who knows me is in on it, because I really, really am obsessed with Jack White, but I'm also obsessed with the love of my friends and family. Its nice to live with both.

It should be a surprise to exactly nobody that I really, really liked April's Fear of the Dawn and July's Entering Heaven Alive, but that wasn't what I spent most of 2022 listening to. Here's the part where I sound like I'm doing a sponsored post, and I wish I was! because I'd love to get some free shit just for writing about the music I am obsessed with! but I'm not, I promise this is genuine. A few years ago Jack White got into the universe of high quality concert "bootlegs" available to stream or purchase. At first, Nugs was a good place for obscure White Stripes shows (many of which I wrote about a few months ago) and digital version of otherwise vinyl-only Vault releases. Now, the platform itself sucks: the app is slow, the website is prehistoric, but on April 8th, when I was leaving the Masonic Temple having seen Jack White debut new songs, propose to Olivia Jean during "Hotel Yorba" and then come back to marry her during the show's encore, I was handed a postcard with a code on it making the bold claim that all of the Supply Chain Issues World Tour would be archived on Nugs for your listening pleasure. Holy shit. Obviously I couldn't chase the tour like I did in 2018, but now I could listen to every single Jack White live show in the comfort of my home, my car, or my headphones? Holy shit, yes. And sure enough, my old ritual of checking what crazy deep cuts Jack would pull out in setlists each morning-after became sending Rachel off to work and listening to the newest show's bootleg with Ben throughout the day. I was ignoring new music, old music, skipping podcasts. Listening to one 100 minute concert isn't that much of a tax on your music time, but, a whole tour? Dozens and dozens of 100 minute concerts? Suddenly the summer was gone and I hadn't listened to anything but Jack White live!

Of the one hundred and four shows this year, I have listened to sixty-nine* of them (as of this writing). To put that into (or out of? hard to say) perspective, if you compile every live Jack White song I have listened to this year (as of this writing!) that's 1506 songs totally in 98 hours, 13 minutes, and 12 seconds of blistering guitar solos, wailing screams, and tender acoustic ballads. 

Is this excessive? Yes. Is it obsessive? Also yes. Do I regret it? No, not really. Jack White, and all of his bands, have been all about the live experience. (Approximately) 100 hours and (approximately) 1500 songs (most of which are the same songs, but often in some wildly different ways) later I'm not really bored of it, but I am more inclined to put on a concert bootleg than I am either of the studio albums. I know I for sure over-listened to Fear of the Dawn, despite my rapturous praise at first listen. 

The CD arrived one entire week early. Ben and Rachel were having a nice nap together when it arrived, so, under the cover of headphones, blasted my brains and fired off the following:

I had a less potent reaction of Entering Heaven Alive (though I think time will reveal that to the one I prefer of the two - and don't get me started on tinkering over a double-album sequence re-connecting these two projects!). Part of that was I did not have a record player to play it on when it came out, part of that was White was in the middle of burning the earth underneath him in Europe around the release and those shows were incredible, so I was more inclined to listen to those. Then, as summer wound down into the school year, it somehow made more sense, and was more satisfying, to listen to half a show on the way to work, and the rest on the way home.

In my mind, Jack White released six albums this year. They are:
  1. Fear of the Dawn
  2. Entering Heaven Alive
  3. The Supply Chain Issues Tour / Masonic Temple, April 8, 2022
  4. The Supply Chain Issues Tour / Masonic Temple, April 9, 2022
  5. Live from Marshall Street
  6. The Supply Chain Issues Tour
I'm conflicted about the last two (and really 3 & 4 as well) because while I don't mind subscription services both digital and physical, its hard for me to "count" or "include" (semi)limited releases on a year end list. If I could, five of the above six "albums" would be on my year end list (which is why I'm writing about them here instead). Marshall Street is a vinyl-only Rough Trade exclusive that comes housed in a lovely box set with the 7th variant of FOTD and 5th variant of EOH. The show, captured on Third Man London's grand opening (September 25, 2021) played from a rooftop overlooking Carnaby and Marshall Streets to a rapturous crowd. The LP catches "Dead Leaves", "Lazaretto", "Steady, As She Goes", "We're Going to Be Friends", and of course "Seven Nation Army" played by the Saturday Night Live trio: Jack, Daru on drums, and Dominic on bass. Its a solid recording, but the songs White played in the TMR London basement offers a more exciting setlist. 

Live from The Supply Chain Issues Tour is a Vault-exclusive, so its (ostensibly) even harder to get than the Rough Trade box set. LP one are live cuts from Fear of the Dawn (minus "Into the Twilight" which debuted riiiiiight after they started pressing), the Union Chapel London live debut of all of Entering Heaven Alive, and the third LP is a compilation of all the improvisational jams and covers Jack, Daru, Dominic, and Qunicy McCrary played on keys. A revelation of raw rock and roll, but maybe a little less exciting if you'd listened to the entire tour up to the pressing date for this admittedly awesome collection. I imagine I'll play the shit out of this once my Nugs account expires and we're a few years removed from this prolific Jack White era.

That leaves, truthfully, the two most sacred musical texts of 2022: Jack White's tour-openers on - literally - "The Jack White Stage" at the Masonic Temple in Detroit, Michigan. There's a lot I could say about these shows: about chewing up all of the VIP early entry time watching for the incredible Matthew Jacobson time capsule posters on both nights (listen to this interview he did with the Third Men Podcast recently it is incredible)

I could talk about the tremendous and impressive opening sets done by Sugar Tradition and Olivia Jean and her band, or I could talk about the electric feeling in my body as Jack's silhouette ripped the opening licks of "Taking Me Back" from behind a blue curtain, the vibrant thrill as it flew up and the stage thrust forward, about the first-time-ever live debut of his cover of U2's "Love is Blindness", or the ultra-rare "I'm Shakin'" or being able to see Jack White with the guy who got me into Jack White - my Uncle Bill, or the cathartic joy of being back in a concert venue after the pandemic paused live music, or the pure joy of "My Doorbell" and other favorite White Stirpes songs. It is, truly, impossible to recount every thrill from those two nights, but if I could narrow down one exactly moment, it would be that I was at Jack White's wedding.

And this is where I return to love and obsession. Jack White once said "music is sacred," and if you see his live shows (or listen to a hundred hours of them) you'll know he means that. You'll know he is obsessed with music and with sharing it with his fans. On April 8th, Jack connected (by love, ha, that's a song title) his love of Olivia, his love of music, and his love of showmanship, in a sort of pre-Easter trinity of his own. And I was there.

Because that's the real thing about obsession: whether its a tennis player, or a band, or performing your music and the people you love, it isn't about keeping that obsession for yourself. It is about sharing it, as widely, generously, and brilliantly as you can. Listen to any of these shows and you'll hear it.

Luckily for me, I'll have those shows to listen to and remember forever, not just my two favorite "albums" of the year, but two of my favorites of all time. 

*71, but I'm not doing the math.

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