Best live band in the world?
That accolade was mentioned more than once in the music press after I watched The Ranconteurs playing a breakout set at this year's Coachella Festival on a day when every other act seemed to sound a little off in the desert's searing heat.
The band fronted by the White Stripes' Jack White and Michigan rocker Brendan Benson weren't all-conquering rock gods at The Greek Theater last night but they sounded pretty damn fine in the first of two gigs, the second tonight due to demand from Coachella-heads.
Most tunes were off “Consolers of the Lonely” released earlier this year and they played a smattering from their first, “Broken Boy Soldiers,” including “Steady As She Goes.” Standouts included their eponymous opener “Consolers,” “You Don't Understand Me” and “Fade to Black”/ “Salute Your Solution” as an encore/crescendo. Only noticeable omission was “Carolina Drama.”
Support act The Kills – vocalist Alison Mosshart, a London emigree from Florida and Jamie Hince, a British guitarist who currently dates Kate Moss -- opened with a stomping set of stripped down riffs and art-school vibes. Best tracks live were “No Wow” off the 2005 album of the same name, “Tape Song,” “Hook on Line” and finisher “Fried My Little Brains.” The two-piece band's act was solid and their stage presence projected much more effectively than their bare-essentials set.
The Greek Theater's setting is of course spectacular and the velvet-curtain-shellacked set had a slightly Gothic Vaudivillian feel to it. My gig buddy thought it was Southern saloon-style with a touch of French Quarter. One of us was probably right. Sound was good as was lighting.
After opening with “Consoler,” The Raconteurs moved through “Hold Up,” “Blue Veins,” and “Top Yourself” in quick succession, Benson lending a Pink Floyd guitar-solo touch to “Blue Veins” and White dedicating “Top Yourself” to his girl, model Karen Elson, who used to live out here.
Next was “Keep It Clean,” “Level,” and “You Don't Understand Me,” an extended version of “Rich Man's Blues,” and into “Steady As She Goes,” which to all intents sounded like The Kills with a few more band members.
Perhaps an overly long break before the encore was preceded by White's obvious sense of dramatic timing, displayed on several tracks where his vocals and piano sounded much tweaked from the album – in some cases like Bowie's “Aladdin Sane” with a snort of bourbon and a meth mainliner.
Still on their extended world tour that'll take them to San Diego on Wednesday and Santa Barbara on Thursday among others, their stage act was tight although there looked to me like some tension between Benson and White. Maybe not, of course, I wouldn't like to definitively say -- maybe it's part of the act. Perhaps it was because Benson's voice didn't sound to me like it was at its peak or that White's trademark overlayed solos continually cast attention squarely on the Stripes' frontman, which he clearly relished last night at least. Still, they riffed face-to-face on a good few tunes, and any tension seemed to dissipate after they jammed together on “Old Enough.”
Standout bit was the Southern boot-kicking fiddle solo on “Old Enough” and, in fact, my buddy and I came to a rare agreement that this was their best track on the night.
Best live band in the world? Not on this performance -- but tonight they just might be.