The Dead Weather, the new supergroup featuring Jack White of the White Stripes/Raconteurs, Alison Mossheart of the Kills, Dean Furtita of Queens of the Stoneage, and Jack Lawrence of the Raconteurs and Greenhornes, arrived at the Roxy last night to make the case whether a blues rock band in the 21st century can offer anything new, or whether they're just shilling a fresh coat of make-up (thick black masacara) on a corpse that long-ago should have been buried. Which is to say: what does the Dead Weather offer that, say, you can't get a heavier dose of from Howlin' Wolf or '68 Comeback?
The band marched out to the sound of Captain Beefheart's totally rolling, totally ridiculous “Sure Nuff Yes I Do,” as if to illustrate the point that making weirdo blues rock ain't as easy as it may be.
Perhaps that was a mistake, setting the bar so high, because as the show progressed, we started comparing what the Dead Weather does — blues rock, pure, rich and simple — with other, earlier practitioners who riffed on a formula that evolved from the electric blues. You know, like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, the twisted and dastardly sounds of John Lee Hooker, and, later, the Yardbirds, Big Brother and Holding Company, Led Zeppelin and a hundred trillion lame-ass white boy/girl imitators.
How did the Dead Weather hold up?
The Dead Weather vs. Led Zeppelin
(Jimmy Page was actually at the Roxy last night, and the rumor was that he was gonna get up onstage. Alas, he did not.)
Winner: Led Zeppelin (duh)
The Dead Weather vs. the Doors
Like the Doors, the Dead Weather uses keyboards, deep bass and an overwrought singer who smokes and mopes shakes the hair around as the band rocks out. Unlike the Doors, there is absolutely no “troubled poet” pretensions. And unlike the Doors, singer Mossheart is very much alive. There was one time where she screamed a scream so curdling and real that it gave me tingles.
Winner: The Dead Weather (okay, at least last night)
The Dead Weather vs. Pussy Galore
New York blues rock band Pussy Galore was more about theory than it was about rocking the fuck out, though they could do that, too. They deconstructed the blues where Sonic Youth deconstructed art rock, and, in fact, released a cover of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street as a preemptive answer SY's rumored cover of the Beatles White Album. But Pussy Galore was fucked up in a good way, and had two future stars: Jon Spencer and Neil Michael Hagerty; the former went on the form Blues Explosion (the Dead Weather owes a debt, for sure), and the latter, Royal Trux (better than the Dead Weather).
Winner: Pussy Galore
The Dead Weather vs. the Black Keys
Like Akron's Black Keys, Dead Weather has a thing for Captain Beefheart, for hollow-body blues, for riffing on the traditional and updating it. Unlike the Black Keys, Dead Weather has a very hot, very unbearded lead singer who has a voice that belies her petiteness. Both rely on slow-build volume bursts, and of dynamics. The Dead Weather are way more exciting, for sure.
Winner: the Dead Weather
Dead Weather vs. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band
Kudos to DW for their taste. They draw from great sources, and you can here the respect, and the enthusiasm, and the raw licks. But Beefheart, i.e. Don Van Vliet, had a vision, and created something huge. I can't say that DW created anything SO huge, but hell if there weren't times when the band floored me.
Winner: Captain Beefheart
Dead Weather vs. Big Brother and Holding Company
Tie. Janis Joplin is a better singer than Mossheart, but, overall, the Dead Weather took the music to surprising places, whereas, musically, BBaHC offered little more than mimicry (and that voice, of course).
Winner: the Dead Weather
Dead Weather vs. Taylor Hicks
Okay, so here's a question: if Allison Mossheart were not a model-hot lady with a square jaw, steely eyes and “that certain something,” if she were a chubby man with gray hair doing this exact same set in Bumfuck, Alabama, and you came upon this band in a bar, would you like them? Okay, now replace the other three Dead Weatherans with guys with beer bellies and truckers hats spitting out white-boy blues. Would you like them? Or is it something else? There were times when it was something else last night, something stunning. That one song about bloody water was ferocious, filled with dynamics and guitar lines and so much jamming action that I got tingly. And it was Mossheart the presence, the voice, the energy, that put it over the top. But I couldn't help wondering whether, as I said before, this is a new coat of paint on a rusted old jalopy.
Winner: The Dead Weather
Dead Weather vs. Bonnie Raitt
The funniest line of the night in a song was the one where Mossheart sang, “I had a pony/Her name was Lucifer.” It's like, oooh, a satanic pony. How dangerous could that be? Not too. It conjured images of little girls and little horsies, sweetness and the desire to pamper and ride and take care of something. Except that the pony is named Lucifer. That's kind of how I felt about the Dead Weather. A pony named Lucifer. Bonnie Raitt would never sing about evil ponies. Plus, she learned how to play guitar from Mississippi Fred McDowell.
Winner: Bonnie Raitt
The Dead Weather vs. AC-DC
The Dead Weather vs. the Black Crowes
Winner: The Dead Weather
The Dead Weather vs. Kenny Wayne Shepard
The Dead Weather vs. The Rolling Stones
Winner: We won't dignify that with a response.
Oh, and Jack White is a good drummer, but it was so much better last night when he played guitar.