Jack White’s Raconteurs roadtrip
I can’t be the only person who found it odd that Brendan Benson was hand-picked by the White Stripes as one of the main opening acts on their big Get Behind Me Satan tour. Benson, like Meg and Jack White, is a Detroit native. But it’s hard — no, impossible — to imagine that he and the Whites were ever part of a tight-knit Motor City scene. Actually, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a real music scene in that oddly burned-out town. Ann Arbor? Maybe. But Detroit Rock City? My ass.
DOUBLES MATCH: “We’re really aiming toward that duality: the dual songwriting, the dual guitar leads, the harmonies, the dual vocals.”
There’s also an enormous stylistic chasm that separates Benson’s classic æsthetic, which is steeped in the tidy hooks, clean guitars, and lightly psychedelic undertones of Beatlesque power pop, from the Stripes’ raucous garage blooze. Benson signed directly to a major label (Virgin) for his debut, hooked up with Raspberries-pop master Jason Faulkner (of Jellyfish), and then had to re-record the whole damn thing at the label’s behest with a more alt-rock-oriented producer, Ethan James of Jane’s Addiction fame. The Stripes, meanwhile, went lo-fi DIY all the way, releasing their albums on the tiny garage-rock label Sympathy for the Record Industry until 2003, when, their audience having grown beyond Sympathy’s distribution capacity, a deal with the mini-major V2 was worked out.
But the White Stripes weren’t just showing their own sympathy for what the record industry had done to Benson by bringing him along on tour. It turns out that White and Benson are long-time pals who’ve been writing songs and trading hooks for years. As White explains when I catch him and Benson on their cells during a tour-bus ride to Dallas, “We met in Detroit, where we both lived, and we shared a lot of the same musical sensibilities. Maybe we didn’t play the same type of music, but we both liked Dylan. I remember seeing him play ‘Isis’ one night. I was shocked that he remembered all of the words. I had covered that song too, so there were little things like that. You know, I think there’s a lot to talk about between musicians no matter what you’re into. It’s not like a banker talking to a construction worker or something. There’s always the art of songwriting.”
Talking turned to playing, and when White hooked up with the Rust Belt rhythm section of drummer Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence (from another outfit who opened for the Stripes on the Satan tour, Cincinnati’s the Greenhornes), a band was born, the Raconteurs, who play the Orpheum this Friday. “I don’t think we ever really made a proclamation about this being a band,” Benson explains. “It was just that at some point during the making of what became our first album we started thinking, ‘This sounds pretty good. And maybe we should come up with names for some of these songs. And maybe we should even name this band.’ So it started with just the four of us getting together just to play, to jam together, which we’d talked about doing for years . . . since like 1998.”
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