Jack White likes the struggle. He's said so in interviews. He believes in hard work. The guiding force of each performance is the feeling that arises as the musicians collectively navigate the particular challenges of each moment on stage. Every show is guaranteed to be different. There are no set lists. His songbook is deep, stretching back 15 years with White Stripes material and original tunes with the Raconteurs, Dead Weather, and his current solo album, Blunderbuss, which he performs with an all-female band and an all-male band. Both are on the road with him on the tour that came to Outside Lands on Sunday. With the women, he was relaxed, smiling, happily on fire. With the men, he made a bigger noise that was less joyful, more complex.
A couple of hours before his scheduled gig on the main stage, he dropped an unannounced show on a secret side stage with the female band. For the lucky few (there may have been three hundred of us total) who spotted and packed in around the yellow and black Third Man Records truck -- a recording and production studio on wheels nestled in a eucalyptus grove -- this was the epic event of the festival. The group performed four songs, including the first and most soulful of White's new singles, "Love Interruption." There was a smoldering intensity between White and this track's duet partner, Ruby Amanfu, a stunning African-American singer who matched the band leader's power note for note. But the best sparring of the set happened with sassy fiddler Lily Mae Rische, who seduced us all with her wide mischievous eyes, unruly curls, and juke-joint sway, cigarette dangling bad-girl-like from lush crayoned lips. Almost careless of the other band members, she and White whooped it up in the intimate space, sharing knowing glances, and undulating back and forth.
With the boys on the big stage a short while later, White came on with amps on 11. This was rockstar Jack, and he was less compelling. His similar opening at Lollapalooza last weekend seemed stronger, more savage. Onstage at Outside Lands, his shredding felt looser, more Pearl Jam-esque than the hyper-focused, post-Zeppelin rip-roar we're used to hearing from him. His rocking somehow failed to convey the power suggested in its volume, but the quieter tunes ("We're Going to Be Friends"), and especially the rollicking ones (the barrelhouse piano, the singalongs), crushed.
The backwoods hoedown "Hotel Yorba," a White Stripes classic, tapped the jump-up energy of the female band (even though the original version of it brought more bounce). "Take Me With You When You Go" felt like an invitation. "I Guess I Should Go to Sleep" was about where the crowd was at after three long days of live-music immersion. Still, there was some raw magic. The Raconteurs moan: "How ya gonna rock yourself to sleep when your daddy ain't there to do it to ya?!" The deep Dead Weather groove, "I Cut Like a Buffalo," was danceable (though we don't get why the Kills singer didn't join him on stage for this one). And finally, of course, "Seven Nation Army," sent the masses home reeling, feeling like we could take on whatever's hurled in our path. That's Jack White's mission: to envelop, infuse, and inspire. Mission accomplished. -- Sam Prestianni
What is it like to be Skrillex? To be all alone up there in a DJ booth that looks like a supervillain's germ-warfare console, or the helm of an enormous robotic exoskeleton that crushes or subsumes everything it passes? To look out at a sea of faces and limbs flailing ecstatically, and know that you can interact with them only unidirectionally, that all you can really do is whip them around with sonic fury and occasionally entreat them to stay warm and be good to one another? Is it lonely? Is his loneliness the loneliness of a god?
Um, sorry, that got away from me there. Watching Skrillex is not unlike watching a disaster-sci-fi thriller movie -- and I mean that in the most sincerely adoring way -- from the digital countdown preceding his entrance to the endlessly evolving stream of visuals images projected behind him. (Would it be belaboring the comparison to note that, at one point, someone a few feet from me was handed a bowl of weed and a pair of 3D glasses simultaneously?) The sum of it all suggests something high-tech and high-stakes, a great deal of suspense without what one would under most circumstances call a "plot."
But that's the way the exoskeleton crushes: not song by song but in breathless, and aimless, and impeccably orchestrated chase sequences, separated by the occasional moment of eerie calm. Come to think of it, maybe only the sound is the thriller, and watching it happen amid all those faces and limbs is the thriller-themed Six Flags roller coaster. Skrillex: The Ride. They say you have to be this age or younger to try it, but you'll probably find it exhilarating at least once, even if you're terrified and never want to go anywhere near it again. -- Daniel Levin Becker