GULF SHORES, Alabama — Judging by his cadaverous complexion, Jack White probably doesn't make it out to the beach all that often. Which is probably why his Friday night set at the Hangout Festival felt less like a headlining gig and more like one long (long) victory lap: He was determined to enjoy the experience.
Sure, White took the stage long after the sun had set over the stretch of white-sand beach the Hangout calls home (it's definitely the only fest where going barefoot is not only a viable option, but practically encouraged), but spurred on by the cheers of a raucous crowd and cooled by the gentle breeze of the Gulf, he tore through a wild 90-minute set. It was one that dove deep into his back catalog — featuring not only White's new Blunderbuss tunes, but also songs from the White Stripes, the Dead Weather, the Raconteurs and the Danger Mouse-helmed Rome project too — and saw him break out roughly 100 fret-assaulting guitar solos, two backing bands ... and exactly one fedora.
He spoke barely a word (and nary a metaphor) during his time onstage, preferring instead to let the music do the talking. Or, more precisely, the yelling. Because from the moment he kicked things off with a high-octane version of the Stripes' "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," to the second the final echoes of "Seven Nation Army" were escaping out into the night air, White was plenty loud. And equally loose. "I Cut Like a Buffalo," "Love Interruption" and (especially) "Ball and Biscuit" each unspooled over several minutes, with White stomping and pulling solos from his guitar, goofy smile on his face, while both of his crack backing bands followed close behind. It was clear that, on Friday night, White wanted to jam.
Which is why, in just about every conceivable way, this wasn't the kind of show you'd expect from the normally uptight White. Of course, he was still dressed like a country mortician and, sure, he made his backing bands dress in near-matching unis (black for his male band, the Buzzards; white for the female counterpart, the Peacocks), and the lighting scheme onstage never strayed from "ethereal blue," but he seemed to draw genuine joy from letting his songs breathe: He turned "Hotel Yorba" into a hoedown, lent extra punch to new tracks like "Sixteen Saltines" and "Hypocritical Kiss" and led the audience in an extended chant during "Army," which has almost inexplicably become his signature song on both sides of the Atlantic.
Maybe it had something to do with the Gulf Stream, the postcard-perfect setting of the Hangout Fest (they have palm trees on the beach!) and the day of terrific music he was closing out — Friday also featured standout sets from Wilco, Alabama Shakes and Yelawolf, to name just a few — or maybe White just wanted to cut loose. But last night, his solos rang loud and proud, his voice was voluminous and creaky in all the right ways, and both of his bands proved worthy traveling partners on the lengthy musical excursions on which he led them.
In short, White certainly seems to be enjoying life as a solo artist. Especially when he's playing the songs he made with others. Now, if he could only work on that tan ... you get the feeling he'd become a regular down here at the Hangout.
Did you catch Jack White's set at the Hangout Festival? Share your reviews in the comments!