A Big Loud Rock Show… or Why I Love Jack White

You may recall that a few Sundays ago, I went to see Taylor Swift in concert, and this past Sunday night I went to see the Raconteurs. That these shows were on Sunday is about all that they had in common… well, that and the fact that there didn’t seem to be much, um, ethnic diversity represented in either of the crowds.

At the Taylor Swift concert, the crowd was mainly female with many young girls. The Raconteurs appear to be incredibly popular with boys of all ages, and I’d guess that the crowd was easily 65-70% male. While singing along and screaming seemed to be the primary crowd response at Taylor Swift, yelling, jumping, and flailing were all pretty common responses at Raconteurs.

A not very good photo of the Raconteurs on stage from the balcony taken by a not very tall person over taller peoples' heads

The Raconteurs are a rock band. A Big Loud Rock Band featuring five talented guys playing very, very well, and well, big and loud. Their sound is mostly big guitars with a few other things thrown in here and there, with hints of blues, pop harmonies, and catchy hooks scattered in and around. Of course, there’s significantly more nuance on their recorded work, as the live show was (I think I mentioned) loud, with a performance style following a rowdy mix of punk, metal, and classic rock, and certainly all about the guitars. As talented as all of the band members clearly are, the draw of this band is Jack White’s guitar abilities, and his stardom and talent pretty much owned the live show.

Seeing this show reinforced my (relatively recent) appreciation of Jack White. I never really got into the White Stripes, and when he was named one of the greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone, well, I was skeptical on principle. Then slowly but surely, he was involved with awesome and more awesomer projects, and I had to acquiesce… until I realized that I was a huge fan. And wanted to marry him (he got divorced, um, again, this summer).

But one of the really big reasons I love him is because of Loretta Lynn’s album Van Lear Rose (2004). He produced this album, sings with her on one track, and plays on all the tracks. This album was the subject of my very first country music research paper during the first year of my PhD studies, which, in effect, set me on my current academic research path. Upon (re)entering the academy, I had no idea that popular music studies would be an option for my musicological research. So in some ways, Loretta and Jack, I’m where I am today, er, because of y’all. So, you know, thanks for that.

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Guitar Slide Wednesday: the (slightly snarky) Taylor Swift version

In honor of my Pop Cultural Experience on Sunday, today’s version of Guitar Slide Wednesday features Taylor Swift. One particular moment in the concert (when the set and Ms. Swift were changing), her band’s two guitarists were featured and one of them gained my approval by playing a slide straight out of the 80s. The second time I noticed a guitar slide that evening was in the song featured below.

I think this song is kind of ridiculous, but it is certainly everything a pop song ought to be (catchy hook, easily accessible, a cute love story with hierarchical gender representations, what have you). Seriously, listen to it a couple of times and you’ll likely find it irresistable. What’s that? No, just me?

OK, well, in any event, it is enhanced (or redeemed) in its use of an Incredibly Dramatic Direct Modulation Up a Whole Step! But wait, there’s more!!! This key change is introduced by… you guessed it: a beautiful guitar slide. Skip to 3:00 in the video below to hear the build up and the slide happens around 3:16 and you’ll be humming that little chorus all day…

Teenagers, nostalgia, and female subjectivity… or a few thoughts on Taylor Swift

On Sunday, a Dear Friend invited me to attend a Taylor Swift concert in Atlanta. Tickets to this show were purchased for Friend’s daughter’s birthday back in the summer, but the show had been re-scheduled. So Friend, Friend’s daughter, Friend’s daughter’s friend, and I headed to Atlanta to join 14,000 of our closest young girlfriends to see Taylor Swift perform.

To be completely honest, I’m not a fan of pop music in general, nor do I generally keep up with star culture (outside of what may be presented on NPR or ESPN). By extension, I’m not a fan of Taylor Swift and know very little about her and her music. What I know about Taylor Swift is from the Kanye thing, and from a clever and interesting presentation on auto-tune at an academic conference. I knew enough to expect to be entertained with great production, but I had relatively low expectations for the musical performance and general abilities of Ms. Swift.

Overall, we had a great time (impeccable company cannot be overstated) and the show exceeded expectations. Further, I walked away with a different perspective on, dare I say appreciation of, Taylor Swift. As expected, her voice was nice and effects-y whenever she was singing, but I was surprised that she was basically on pitch for the majority of the night. Also as expected, her band was great and the production was impressive, but I was pleasantly surprised that she featured a fabulous group of dancers/performers on stage throughout the entire show.

A few of her sets were academic paper-worthy, though I was mostly amused by the nice little nod to nostalgia with a “down-home” town square set she used for the two songs she played banjo on (with appropriate costumes for the dancers/band, along with the stylized hoe-down dance moves – the songs were “Our Song” and “Mean.” I think).* I believe this set and these songs were there to remind us that she is a Country Star, because based on the rest of the show, one might have been inclined to forget that (apparently on Saturday Usher made a surprise appearance, and at this show, T.I. was the surprise guest).

Overall, despite the fact that by the end of the night I was much annoyed by her doe-eyed, surprised facial expressions that she held at least five seconds too long after each song (along with some annoying mannerisms that I generally associate with flighty teenage girls), I can honestly say that I was impressed with her as a female star. Her star image isn’t overtly sexualized, and I appreciate that she plays instruments. Also, she is clearly a fine songwriter that presents a female subjectivity. And while the female subjectivity that she has become identified with is sometimes stereotypical and formulaic, this positionality is something that is generally lacking (and generally undervalued) in popular music.

If young girls choose to idolize and identify with a female star, I suppose there are worse women to choose from. However, I don’t think I’ll be buying her albums any time soon.

*Apparently, this set and imagery align with other ways the song has been presented. This photo is from a performance of the song at the Academy of Country Music Awards and the video is also similar.