Concert review: The Dead Weather at Rams Head Live
Midnight Sun contributor Evan Haga saw the Dead Weather at Rams Head Live last night. Here is his review:
Strangely — very strangely — the Dead Weather can evoke a reaction similar to what one feels in the presence of a symphony with a sharp conductor, or a particularly inventive jazz repertory band.
It's all about heritage with this quartet, about sifting through the ages and plucking the really good stuff. The ominous, psychedelic-eye backdrop; the Captain Beefheart entrance music; the roadies dressed like Southern Gothic assassins; the goat-head stage props: Making aesthetic decisions is something this band does well.
The blues-crazed music, with its keen ear for late '60s and '70s sonics and deft way with rhythm, followed suit, and the attitude and posturing were veracious. Most of last night's one-hour-and-fifteen-minute set at Rams Head Live sneered and bristled as in the pushing-match moments before a fistfight. These people have the right idea. ...
The Dead Weather is a super-group of sorts, the most super component being Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs on drums, some vocals and less guitar. White was often eclipsed by singer Alison Mosshart, who made her name in the Kills, and joined throughout by guitarist/keyboardist Dean Fertita, who also plays in Queens of the Stone Age, and bassist Jack Lawrence of the Raconteurs and the Greenhornes.
The band formed in 2009, but has already released two fine albums — also a kind of throwback to the LP era, when groups quickly developed their chemistry onstage and outran creative malaise with touring and recording.
This set nicely balanced highlights off the two records. From the first: the explosive "Hang You From the Heavens;" the chunkily grooving "I Cut Like a Buffalo;" and the final encore, "Treat Me Like Your Mother," which underscored White and Mosshart's distinctive vocal chemistry. (While the tandem could be delicate, almost sensual, as on "Will There Be Enough Water?," most of their traded phrases and rough-hewn harmonies came off like a domestic quarrel about to turn ugly.)
A lot of the material from the new record, "Sea of Cowards," is freer, more grooving and more meandering, and those songs became out-sized jams here: "Hustle and Cuss," essentially a big Led Zep riff that the groups vamped on at different volumes, and the similarly propulsive "Blue Blood Blues."
As an ensemble it was obvious the Dead Weather's touring had paid off, but the parts were often greater than the sum. Mosshart has grown more assured since I last saw her but has retained her slovenly charisma. Slouched, with her black mop of hair almost constantly covering her face, she stood atop monitors, rested on side stage speakers, played a Bo Diddley-style guitar mostly for sound effects and breathed life into the lyrics: Sexy, rough-and-tumble confessions and witticisms that romanticize the down and out. ("I'm not the way that you found me/I'm neither here nor there/One day I'm happy and healthy/Next I ain't doing so well," she sang on "The Difference Between Us." And on "Gasoline:" "To be afraid is a luxury/Don't cool your engines for me.")
White played drums with robust attack and zero frills, and his voice was a treat to hear in a club environment. He made a cover of Them's "You Just Can’t Win" his own, and backed off the mike so his voice could fill the room acoustically on "Will There Be Enough Water?"
Fertita was the band's not-so-secret weapon and its source of musicianly flash. His solos on "60 Feet Tall" helped him steal the guitar-hero trophy from White, and his synth and organ playing added welcome vintage prog-rock flourishes.
Cross your fingers White gives this outfit some room to grow.
(Photos of the Dead Weather performing at the Glastonbury Festival by Getty Images)