White Stripes leader Jack White teams with fellow Raconteurs Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler for an invigorating performance filmed in 2008 for Nigel Godrich’s “From the Basement” series.
Jack White seized all the opportunities that came with the White Stripes’ unexpected stardom, pushing the duo he led with drummer Meg White through a series of tours, videos and records through the mid-2000s while also finding time to step outside of the band. He produced and wrote with other musicians, and he appeared in movies directed by Jim Jarmusch, Jake Kasdan and Anthony Minghella.
White’s stardom shone so brightly, he tended to eclipse his collaborators, at least as far as public perception was concerned. This proved especially true of the Raconteurs, a Midwestern garage rock group in which he was the only household name but not the only accomplished songwriter. Brendan Benson, White’s accomplice in the Raconteurs, had assembled a strong body of work in his own right.
Benson was signed to a major from the outset, releasing “One Mississippi” in 1996, but he never amassed more than a cult of power-pop devotees. The Raconteurs provided him a vehicle to bring his muscular craftsmanship to a larger audience, while also giving him a chance to delve into harder rock. This versatility and accomplishment appealed to White, who pushed the neo-primitive punk blues of the White Stripes to its limits on “Get Behind Me Satan” in 2005.
The pair of songwriters collaborated on “Steady as She Goes” and discovered they liked their chemistry so much that they recruited bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler — the rhythm section of the Greenhornes, an Ohio garage outfit previously produced by White — to flesh out a band they now called the Raconteurs. Though this “From the Basement” performance contains only four songs, the latter two joined as a medley, the set demonstrates how the group expanded its reach by the time of its second album, “Consolers of the Lonely,” in 2008.
The two songwriters also shrewdly share the spotlight.
Deliberately leaving their hookiest material at home, the Raconteurs concentrate on songs that allow them to explore tributaries suggested by their songs. The two songwriters also shrewdly share the spotlight. Clad in paisley and sporting a bushy mustache, Benson seems to be a refugee from a shag-carpeted rec room, cutting a striking comparison to White dressing down in matching black jeans and T-shirt. Benson also is the first to sing lead, opening the show with the pummeling “Consoler of the Lonely,” a rocker that gains definition when heard in tandem with the spare yet stylized folk ballad “Carolina Drama.”
Both songs are handsome structures with melodies and imagery that insinuate instead of command, leaving the band plenty of space to conjure an atmosphere it punctures and punctuates with cascades of guitars.
“Carolina Drama” descends into an extended moody interlude of feedback, all leading to a vigorous cover of Terry Reid’s “Rich Kid Blues.” Reid’s 1969 chestnut is stitched together with a heavy, churning version of the Kills’ “Kissy Kissy” and within it, the seeds of the band’s future are planted. Not more than a year later, White and Lawrence teamed up with Alison Mosshart of the Kills in the Dead Weather, leaving the Raconteurs in a limbo that lasted over a decade.
The band regrouped in 2019 with “Help Us Stranger,” but they were ascendant, even transcendent in 2008. Listening to this swift yet expansive set, it’s possible to hear the Raconteurs figure out who they are as a band. Years later, that sense of discovery remains palpable and invigorating.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine is a Senior Editor of Pop Music at Xperi, whose database of music information is licensed throughout the internet and can be accessed at Allmusic.com. While at Xperi and Allmusic, he’s written thousands of record reviews and artist biographies as well as editing a series of record guides. He’s also contributed to Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, Billboard, Spin and New York Magazine’s Vulture, and has written liner notes for Sony Legacy, Vinyl Me Please and Raven Records.