At first blush, the Raconteurs would seem to be little more than a vehicle for White Stripes majordomo Jack White to let off some steam. But despite the purposefully low profile — the band won’t follow up this, its first Stateside performance, until an appearance at Lollapalooza two months from now — it’s clear this effort is more than just a busman’s holiday.
White doesn’t steer this ship with nearly as firm a hand as he does the Stripes. In fact, he and Detroit compadre Brendan Benson share vocal and songwriting duties fairly evenly, making for an interesting confluence of sweet power-pop sensibility and hazy avant-garage attitude.
From the opening strains of “My Baby’s on the Level,” it was clear that those two mindsets worked well together — in large part because White’s and Benson’s voices melded so niftily, the desperate yelp of the former buffered by the latter’s measured tenor. Most of the compact perf — which clocked in at just over an hour — consisted of material from the band’s upcoming V2 disc “Broken Boy Soldiers,” and while few of those tunes break much new ground, each had a serious visceral impact.
That was particularly true of the album’s title track, a frantically scratchy punk screed that seems to be White’s first stab at a protest song. That stance proved something of a surprise — although not as much of a shock as seeing White take the stage in earth-toned Western gear rather than his omnipresent red-and-white mufti (a visual distancing from the White Stripes, to be sure).
With only an album’s worth of material to draw from, the band fleshed out the set with a smattering of cover material, most notably a take on Love’s “A House Is Not a Motel” that emphasized the song’s psychic desperation rather than the melodic breeziness most interpreters apply.
Throughout, White and Benson displayed an effortless chemistry — two parts camaraderie to one part competition — which not only made for an absorbing show, but pointed toward some intriguing offerings in the future.