Co-leading a band is a tricky proposition: How can there be two lead singers? Who gets to stand center-stage? Who does the band introductions? This problem is increased when one of the leaders is in an immensely popular band and the other is a well-kept secret of indie kids and public radio DJs. Somehow, despite the odds, the Raconteurs make it work, as last night’s sold-out show at the Pageant proved.
Jack White is best known as the leader of the White Stripes, and his stripped-down blues get spun into classic-rock gold with the Raconteurs. On his own, Brendan Benson has released a few wonderful, slightly melancholy power-pop albums, but his role as co-leader of the band has given him an outlet to amplify his preternatural knack for harmony and riffsmanship.
The crowd’s response to the band entrance was fairly amazing – fists were pumped, hoots were hollered, and high-fives were exchanged. Tell me, when did this band get so huge? Benson still looks like a bleached and sun-stroked Lindsey Buckingham, and White, dressed in tight black jeans and a black t-shirt, was sporting a bed-head version of the pompadour he wore as a karate-chopping Elvis Presley in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
Flanked by bassist Jack Lawrence, drummer Patrick Keeler and a touring keyboardist, the band wasted no time in creating an unholy noise – there was no shortage of guitar duels, bowel-shaking bass thumps and steam-powered drumming. The ping-ponging “Level” came early in the set, with White and Benson spitting the call-and-response lyrics across the stage.
In sharing the stage and trading songs back and forth, White and Benson make the whole thing seem utterly egoless. Both are excellent guitarists, offering supportive rhythmic strokes and searing solos as needed. And while both men split the mic evenly, it seems that the band exists to introduce Benson’s considerable gifts to a larger audience. He offered up “Hands,” a highlight from the debut album Broken Boy Soldiers and one of many Raconteurs songs that threaten to turn into Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love” at any moment. Later, Benson began “Rich Kid Blues” (from the recently released Consolers of the Lonely) with a clarion call of faux lonesomeness before the tune turned into a foot stomping romp; with any luck, the track will become this generation’s “Behind Blue Eyes.”
The set ended with the band’s first (and, to date, biggest) hit, “Steady as She Goes.” Benson relished the chance to vamp over the intro while Lawrence pumped out the opening strains on his Rickenbacker bass. White sang the coda on a heavily treated harmonica microphone, turning the chorus into a beautifully garbled transmission. The Raconteurs returned for a handful of songs, and it seemed that the band played nearly every song in its two-album catalogue in the 90-minute set.
A five-piece incarnation of the Fiery Furnaces opened the show. Eleanor Friedberger won over about half the crowd with her wry, spit-fire delivery while her brother, keyboardist Matthew, led the band through roughly two million tempo shifts, key changes and breakdowns. The other half of the crowd couldn’t hang with the proggishness, though the Furnaces proved a great opening band – largely inoffensive and forthright without being overpowering. The bulk of the set was comprised of songs from the band’s latest, last year’s Widow City. “Ex-Guru” was a lovely piece of polyrhythmic pop, though the standout was “The Philadelphia Grand Jury,” a song with numerous stops, starts and modulations. That the Fiery Furnaces can turn a line like “make sure that they notarize my will” into a statement of purpose is testament to the band’s mystical powers.
-- Christian Schaeffer