Headed up by the double-headed beast made up of singer/guitarist Jack White and singer/guitarist Brendan Benson, The Raconteurs are hard-wired to play exciting, tuneful rock & roll. Joined by fellow Detroit homeboys Jack Lawrence on bass and Patrick Keeler on drums (plus utility man Dean Fertita, last seen on our stage with Queens of the Stone Age and Iggy Pop), the band is positively deadly. As we found out when the group came back to the ACL stage in support of their long-awaited third album Help Us Stranger, delivering a loud, riff-filled show for the ages, which we streamed live around the world.
With screaming guitars and thrashing drums, the fivesome hit the stage and into the blasting Stranger opener “Bored & Razed,” with White on the verses and Benson on the choruses. That wasn’t raucous enough, so the band hit the bluesy, crunchy “Don’t Bother Me” even harder. One squall of feedback later, Benson donned an acoustic guitar for “Only Child,” a folk rocker of sorts that featured Benson and White harmonizing on the same mic, bluegrass-style. The ex-White Stripes singer moved to the keyboard for the semi-ballad “You Don’t Understand,” a pop song overtaken by White’s passionate delivery and pounding piano. He stayed on his stool for “Shine the Light On Me,” a classic rock anthem for a new generation, but returned to the guitar to lay fuzzed-out guitar licks on Benson’s conflicted kiss-off “Now That You’re Gone.”
That song led straight into the rifftastic “Sunday Driver,” one of the new record’s catchiest and fiercest rockers. So an acoustic guitar had to come back out, with Benson driving “Help Me Stranger” through its mutated power popping country rock. “Thoughts and Prayers” moved back to anthemic folk rock territory, though with rumbling synth embellishment. Benson went back to acoustic for the Southern rock-inflected ballad “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying),” which keyed on ragged three part harmonies as much as loud guitars, and denied its depressive sentiment with the coda “Here right now – not dead yet.” The band double dipped back into 2008’s Grammy-winning Consolers of the Lonely for the countryish “Old Enough” and the snarling “Top Yourself,” before slamming directly into Stranger’s boogieing Donovan cover “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness).” Then a familiar beat underpinned guitars riffing in harmony, leading to an extended take on “Steady As She Goes,” the powerhouse rocker from their 2006 debut Broken Boy Soldiers that introduced The Raconteurs to the world. The crowd broke into call-and-response with “Are you steady now?” before the song crashed back into its blazing wall of guitars.
After that facemelter, the band ended the set with the crime story “Carolina Drama,” which might have been a Marty Robbins-style folk ballad were it not for the rock volume and White’s distinctive wail. “If you want to know the truth of the tale,” White sang, “Go and ask the milkman” the audience answered. The set ended, a guitar fed back, White hugged a member of the audience, and the crowd went wild. “That’s it!” said White, and it was over. It was a hell of a show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year on your local PBS station as part of our Season 45.