Dead Weather comes alive shopping new music around

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

May 24, 2010

BY MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times

The Dead Weather may be on tap to play some of the biggest music festivals in North America and Europe this summer, but on Saturday the band played for free to 500 people in a renovated carriage house in the West Loop.

The unusual setting was courtesy of Microsoft, which is staging several impromptu concerts this month to hype the KIN, a new mobile phone. Like five other concerts taking place in San Francisco, New York City and elsewhere, the Chicago concert used social networking to target fans and let them spread the word virally once the location and time was revealed late Saturday afternoon.

The hype delivered a line of fans that stretched outside the Marquardt Trucking Company, down Aberdeen and continuing west down Monroe. People showed up as early as 4 p.m., three hours before the doors opened and five hours before the band hit the stage.

Was it worth it? Ask the band. The Dead Weather just released its second album in 11 months and the concentration power of all four members is evidently strong. Set up in an antiquated carriage house that was streamlined into a club (carpeting, two bars and a DJ booth), the band had to play to a sea of bodies waving mobile phones in the air all night on a portable stage book-ended by two giant and brightly-lit video screens scrolling advertising throughout the show.

Such are the compromises of corporate guerilla marketing. The 80-minute show was designed for distractions but midway through, the band managed to steal the thunder of its host and deliver a show with a single focus.

The Dead Weather features Jack White in the role of ringleader and drummer. “Sea of Cowards” (Third Man), the band’s second album, is built with the recognizable sludgy blues backdrop of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, White’s previous two concoctions, but without the playfulness, economy or pop sensibilities.

On Saturday, the band stuck to heavy blues-based jams that were perfectly suited to singer Alison Mosshart. She was less a vocalist and more of an instrumentalist with her voice, using it to jab the crooked rhythms of each song and to dance around the interchanging riffs. On “I’m Mad,” a new song, she repeated a laugh to set the tone before it took off, swerving through several peaks before returning to its original spot at the end. Her ability to physicalize each guitar squall and sudden rhythmic switch-ups makes her one of rock’s most compelling lead singers today.

Despite White’s star power and Mosshart’s dynamic stage presence, this band’s ace in the hole is Dean Ferita, formerly of Queens of the Stone Age. Switching between organ, electric piano and lead guitar, and often playing two of the three at once, Ferita created subtle guitar tones and slinky guitar riffs that set moods organically without ever sounding flashy. Bassist Jack Lawrence kept the core of the songs at rock bottom, but Ferita pursued pockets that let in the air.

On its last tour cycle the Dead Weather appeared to suffer from haste; the quickly assembled album made their live shows feel like an afterthought. This time it’s evident there’s a band there. On “New Pony,” when White and Mosshart sang a call and response, it was often difficult to tell one’s voice from the other. There were no star turns when White strapped on a guitar either, it just added to the dense thrills.

There aren’t many Dead Weather songs the fans went home singing that night, but for a band that’s built around a sound, that’s by design. The sound they aimed for was the gut and they stayed there.

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