Jack White Takes Portland
After seeing Jack White play at the WaMu Theater in Seattle, my wife and I caught two White shows in Portland, Oregon the next day.
While in Seattle we stayed in an area called Georgetown which had a great section of diner-like coffeeshops, graphic comics/record stores and well-used bars. The manager of our hotel, The Georgetown Inn, talked of being tired from a concert the night before. The concert he spoke of turned out to be Jack White’s show and he shared my opinion of how great a show it was. He pointed out a few local record stores a few blocks away and showed me some great concert art that was 1950s retro in style.
From there it was off to Portland, a three hour drive south, to get ready for Jack White, part two. While searching the internet the night before, my wife noticed that White had appeared in surprise daytime “B shows” in a few of the past cities he had performed in. We decided to go to Starbucks in Portland and watch Twitter from our iPod to see if anything popped up.
Sitting at a Starbucks and people watching in Portland is something everyone should experience. The IFC show Portlandia summed it up well when Fred Armisen said Portland is where the dream of the ‘90s never died. My wife’s aunt and cousin each on separate occasions told us that Portland is the place where 20-somethings go to retire. That line is also from Portlandia, but totally true. I have never seen so many college-age guys wearing plaid pants with suspenders. The bikes, outfits, facial hair, and attitudes reeked of hipster paradise.
Usually Jack White had posted on Twitter around 3:30pm at his previous locations where he would be performing. In Seattle there was a tweet from his Rolling Record Store that they would be out front of the WaMu with 20 lightning bolt Blunderbuss albums to sell. Since they are going for nearly $400 on eBay whenever someone lists one, they are becoming a rare and collectable commodity. We missed the Rolling Record Store in Seattle, but we were determined in Portland since we could access the internet.
At 3:30pm there was no tweet. Then, around 4pm, there was a post that the Rolling Record Store was in town and they would give the location soon. A few minutes later Third Man Records tweeted that Jack White would be performing. The tweet read:
ThirdMan RRS @ThirdManRRS:
Jack White B show. B there. B square. City Laundry. 1414 NW Glisan St. Portland. 4:30 pm.
We quickly drove across town to the address given and there was the Rolling Record Store parked out front of City Laundry. We arrived just thirteen minutes after the tweet, yet there were already over thirty people inside the laundromat and a long line of people waiting at the Rolling Record Store which wasn’t opened yet. My wife and I decided we would split up; she would grab a spot up front inside the laundromat with our video camera while I would wait in line outside for the limited lightning bolt album.
It felt like forever while waiting for the Rolling Record Store to open, and while I was waiting the small laundromat was filling up fast. Like roaches or locusts they came running down the streets from all directions, and within minutes the whole place was filled and trickling out into the street. Once the standing room was filled inside City Laundry, people started to climb on top of washers and dryers, countertops, even on top of an old arcade game to get a view of what was about to unfold. One guy who walked up to the crowd with two large garbage bags full of dirty laundry was noticeably upset that he couldn’t get inside to do his laundry. When I finally got the lightning bolt record I called my wife. She explained that I would never get to her, as she was at the front of the crowd, but behind the Rolling Record Store van I could get an unobstructed view through the glass window.
I got a great spot behind the glass and when I turned around there was Jack White being escorted in through a door right next to me. His all girl backing band, The Peacocks, all filed in behind him. Their manager shut the door behind him and stood there. People soon surrounded me and it started to get tight.
It was time to act for the fans outside. I opened up the door to let the sound out and stood directly behind White’s manager, basically a foot away from the band. I suppose you could say backstage access, but just watching White perform in this surprise show was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I had seen in a concert video of The White Stripes from their 2007 tour of Canada where he had performed some surprise shows, but I never thought I would get the opportunity to see something like that up close and in person.
He played three songs, and I felt myself getting choked up in the moment. It was so hot inside, but everyone was smiling as they dripped sweat and people were in shock that this was all happening. It was magic. It was everything rock stood for on display – in a laundromat of all places. Forget Madonna, Metallica, or any other band imaginable and out there still performing; this was real and it was now.
It was art, it was rock, and it was mythical. There were a few hundred people standing there, some just inches away from Jack White as he performed, and no security at all keeping the “talent” separated from his fans. But yet nothing bad happened, no one pushed or shoved or even shouted a curse word. There was a moment when everyone felt something and knew that maybe just for these people, in this place, that there could be the things we only read about in books. It was our moment.
When it ended Jack walked right by me while exiting. I had the concert poster from the night before in Seattle in my hands rolled up and I was hoping to get it signed, but I didn’t ask. This moment was too big for him to stop for a fan.
The crowd parted as he walked through to his van and people stood in awe at what they had just seen. He drove away and everyone slowly filed out of the small laundromat drenched in sweat.
I am all about getting an artist to sign a show poster as it seems like the all-time trophy, but I’m reminded to live in the moment from an old White Stripes song. It was called “Take, Take, Take” and the lyrics are a lesson in admiration.
White sings in the song, “I was sitting there in a comfortable chair - And that was all that I needed. Then my friend offered me a drink for us to share - And that was all that I needed. Well, then I felt at ease - But then I’m not too hard to please - I guess you couldn’t call me greedy. Then I was shocked to look up - And see Rita Hayworth there in a place so seedy. She walked into the bar with her long, red, curly hair - And that was all that I needed. And I said to my friend, “good god, we’re lucky men just to even see her’”
The chorus repeats, “Take, take, take, Take, take, take, Take, take, take,” sung softly and high pitched. Then White gets closer to his celebrity meeting in the next verse singing,“And I could not resist, I just had to get close to her - And that was all that I needed. I walked and loomed around her table for a while - And that was all that I needed. Then I said, “I hate to bug you, ma’am, but can I have your autograph?” And that was all that I needed. She pressed her lips against a white piece of paper - And that was all that I needed. Then I saw what she wrote, my heart is in my mouth - And that was all that I needed. Then she handed it to me, and I think that she could see - That that was all that I needed. I started to walk away but then I remembered ‘hey, I forgot to get a picture’. So I asked her one more time, “could I have another favor?” That was all that I needed. She was kind and posed with me. Then I knew my friend would see my celebrity meeting.”
The last verse of the song reminds fans how quickly admiration can change to obsession or bitterness.
“She turned and said to me, “I need to go to sleep,” - And it seemed so mean. It’s almost as if she could not appreciate how cool I was being. She said, “good night” and walked away - And I didn’t know what to say, I just couldn’t believe it. Well, it’s just not fair I want to get a piece of hair. That was all that I needed. Or maybe a kiss on the cheek, I wouldn’t wash it for a week. That would be all that I needed. But she didn’t even care, that I was even there, what a horrible feeling.”
Later that night Jack White performed at the Theater of the Clouds and this time he was with his all male band, The Buzzards. This was the first time we had seats for a Jack White show and were not fighting to keep our spots up front. It was also the first time I was able to hear White perform from a distance since Lollapalooza back in 2008.
With the Buzzards, White’s show is harder. He doesn’t dominate them like he does the Peacocks, but he also doesn’t ever stand equal with either band. There is no question who is in charge and who the fans are there to see.
In Seattle with the Peacocks, White wore a hat, coat, and other old-timey kinds of clothing. For Portland with the Buzzards he had light blue pants, a black shirt, and more of his Dead Weather/Crazy Hair/Hard Rocker look. His appearance matched the music as he tore through his catalog of hits.
When the show came to an end he brought out both backing bands to accompany him in singing, “Portland, Oregon”. This was a song he had done with Loretta Lynn when he produced her Grammy-award winning album.
It was a fitting end to a two day adventure and perfect for the Portland show. There are still no dates scheduled for him to come to Minnesota, but I hope it is only time.