Review: Jack White homecoming a celebratory affair

The rocker got cozy in front of a packed house at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday, and even danced with his mother

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Jack White stood on stage at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Thursday, sporting a jersey from his alma mater, Cass Technical High School, and addressed the near-capacity crowd. 

“You know Detroit,” White called out. “I’m your son!”

In front of the biggest hometown audience White has ever performed for, White was clearly in a celebratory mood. It took him a long time to get onto a stage that size, after starting his career with the White Stripes 21 years ago at the now-defunct Gold Dollar, a half-mile and a half a world away. In between, he’s played at just about every venue in town, from the Magic Stick to the Royal Oak Music Theatre, from Chene Park to the Masonic Temple, from the Fillmore Detroit to the Fox Theatre. 

But he’d never played an arena in the area before, and by the time he made it to the stage Thursday, he was ready, packed with an arsenal of material, culling from his three solo albums, his six albums with the White Stripes, his three albums with the Dead Weather and his two albums with the Raconteurs. He even pulled out a version of “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” his fiery duet with Beyoncé from her “Lemonade” album.

Special guests? Aside from the three Detroit Tigers in the crowd he called out to — ex-Tiger Kirk Gibson and current players Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera — he was joined on stage by his mother, Teresa, who sang and danced with him on a polka-flavored “Hotel Yorba.” 

And the crowd didn’t miss a beat of the 113 minute concert; with their cellphones locked away in storage pouches that rendered them unusable, they had no choice but to pay attention. They answered to White’s call-and-response requests, filled the arena with a chorus of chants during the closing “Seven Nation Army,” and even lit up the arena with lighters prior to the encore. It was like 1979 all over again. 

White, joined by his four-piece backing band and four female backup singers, opened the evening at 9:45 p.m. sharp with a rousing “Over and Over,” a ripper from his new solo album “Boarding House Reach,” which recently debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart. That led into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” a fierce rocker from the White Stripes’ 2001 album “White Blood Cells,” which then segued into “Corporation,” a proggy funk-rocker from the new album.

“Who’s with me?” White called out to the crowd, repeating “Corporation’s” signature refrain, which was printed on T-shirts for sale at the merch booths. The crowd was with him all the way, through his Prince-like screams, and during the slowed-down, church organ-infused “Why Walk a Dog?” which followed.

White performed bathed in blue light; even the LED lights in LCA’s rafters occasionally lit up in a light hue of blue. The blue light gave the set a unifying visual theme, and the stage was backed by three large video screens, which projected video from the stage as well as pre-cut visuals.

Meanwhile, White – who giddily asked the crowd, “do you still feel good?” throughout the night – played hopscotch around his career, jumping from the roaring Dead Weather rocker “I Cut Like a Buffalo” to the gentle White Stripes lullaby “We’re Going to be Friends” to the Raconteurs’ power pop nugget “Steady, as She Goes.”

For this incarnation of his live show, White has assembled a jam-friendly backing band with whom he’s still locking into a steady groove. There were some hiccups on Thursday – “Everything You’ve Ever Learned,” from “Boarding House Reach,” was a muddied funk experiment – but that’s expected, since it was only the first night of the tour. In a few weeks time, they’ll be locked and loaded, and by summer festival season – White is headlining New York’s Governor’s Ball festival and Chicago’s Lollapalooza, for starters – they’ll be on fire.

A brash, thrashing “Ball and Biscuit” closed the main set, while the six-song encore featured a thunderous “Connected by Love” and a buoyant and still joyous “My Doorbell.” “Carolina Drama,” the closing Southern epic from the Raconteurs’ “Consolers of the Lonely,” told a long and winding tale, and the crowd was ready with the final line when White tossed it to them. All that was left was “Seven Nation Army,” the most popular stadium anthem in the world, which gave the crowd a spirited sing-along send-off.

“Do you feel good now, Detroit?” White asked the crowd in his parting words. He thanked the audience for being “so kind” to him and his band, and left them with some final words of advice. “Be positive,” he said, “and love Detroit.” On Thursday, he made that awfully easy to do.

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