If your beef with today’s crop of rock bands is that they’re sexless, style-challenged dweebs who play their instruments like they’re afraid to break a nail, then the Dead Weather certainly corrected that situation Tuesday night during their first-ever public show at a packed Bowery Ballroom on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
During the band’s encore, “Hang You From the Heavens,” singer Alison Mosshart (also of the Kills) — a wraith-thin tangle of bird’s-nest black hair, cigarette smoke, leather, and lipstick — spat the sacrilegiously nasty come-on: “I wanna grab you by the hair, and drag you to the devil,” as the trio in black behind her sounded like a late-’60s/early-’70s gang of white afro’d skeeves (plus a ringer Latin percussionist) in bell-bottoms, tiny tight t-shirts, mustaches, and unlicensed handguns, working out a four-minute version of rock, blues, funk, and soul, that would later be issued on a limited-edition compilation by DJ Shadow (and called something like “Mr. Chicken Shit”).
Except that Dead Weather, led by Jack White on drums (playing the occasional, fairly sample-worthy ride-cymbal breakbeat) and featuring Raconteurs bassist “Little” Jack Lawrence and former Raconteurs touring guitarist Dean Fertita (also on organ, and looking like a dangerously all-grown-up Jordan Catalano with scandal-inducing five o’clock shadow), was sharp, clean, and art designed to within an inch of its life (and that’s in no way a criticism).
Dressed all in black, and playing big, gleaming white Gretsch guitars (even a Bo Diddley cigar box!) that White originally had custom-designed for the Alicia Keys-fronted “James Bond band” he assembled for the Another Way to Die theme, the Dead Weather oozed the kind of cool that you can’t attain if you just put your mind to it and practice hard and write some great songs, blahblahblah. Nah, these people kick that sort of please-sir-I-want-some-more posturing to the curb with a scotch in one hand and a goddamned Davidoff in the other.
Yet, it’d be a misrepresentation to imply that the band’s ministrations or White’s rock-star presence — he got an ovation when he finally knocked out a guitar solo (with Lawrence replacing him on drums) during “Will There Be Enough Water,” the closing track on the band’s Horehound album, set to be released in June — approached, in any way, the commanding aura of Mosshart, who stalked and flailed and fell to her knees, wailing that she was “60 feet tall” (take that, “50 Foot Queenie”) in a forceful bellow that seemed immeasurably more confident than her vocals in the Kills (which were slinky-tough enough to start with).
Though some graying indie punks may hoot “Boss Hogg” (suffering horny flashbacks to the Jon Spencer spin-off led by sex-bombing intimidator Cristina Martinez), Mosshart is her own woman, and at times, like during “Bone House” (on which she scarily proclaimed, “I keep your heart in a vault / That’s how I get the things I want!”) and the boldly rearranged cover of Dylan’s “New Pony” (“Come on over here, pony!” Yikes!), she made you completely forget that guy behind her was supposed to be some sort of multiplatinum, Grammy-winnning heart throb hotshot.
The amusing decision to spotlight White and his drums at the beginning of the set made it seem like we were about to watch a Gene Krupa solo, if Gene had guns and a modified goth ‘do.
When it came time to play their cover of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” by Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army, Mosshart called an audible and the band flipped into Them’s “You Just Can’t Win,” with White singing, while she sat and had a proper smoke stage right. It was a nice little diva moment, like Bette Davis telling the crew of Dark Victory, “OK, I need a moment now, boys.”
When White and Mosshart sang the closing line of “Will There Be Enough Water” — “Just because they caught me / Does that make it a sin?” — only inches away from each other, it was the get-a-room-already moment of the year. Good thing Mrs. White, Karen Elson, is a stunning supermodel with two beautiful kids who has a cabaret act and a vintage boutique to run or somebody might feel a tad bit threatened. Just sayin’….
Dead Weather bassist Jack Lawrence / Photo by Eric Nowels
Dead Weather / Photo by Eric Nowels
Vocalist Allison Mosshart / Photo by Eric Nowels
Jack White and Jack Lawrence / Photo by Eric Nowels
Allison Mosshart / Photo by Eric Nowels
Dead Weather / Photo by Eric Nowels