The Dead Weather + Harlem at Congress Theater: Live review
If Hollywood ever gets around to needing another catwoman for the Batman franchise, I'm nominating Alison Mosshart for the role. The Kills singer has emerged as one of the most engaging frontwomen in rock music right now with slinky, feline moves and occasional rock n' roll back bends as her forté—all would be for naught except that Mosshart belts as well as she poses and even her howls and screams are exquisitely delivered—beautifully tortured. When she wasn't crawling onto the bassbins, throwing the microphone cable around, stomping and slapping a tambourine, or strumming her Bo Diddley-style white guitar, Mosshart was still the focus of vast amounts of our attention last night at the Congress. More than once, her microphone stand became ensnarled in her pulled mic cable and followed her spinning and bouncing before falling somewhere, seemingly under some kind of spell—not unlike the audience.
But just as much of the Dead Weather's stage presence (on a stage anchored on either side by taxidermy heads mounted on light columns like a pagan temple) was wrapped up in Jack White, who spent most of the night on the drum kit employing some extra toneful toms and reaching to his left to give a crash cymbal a spin for flourish. White's slightly idiosyncratic style leds itself to stonery jams and blues laments, but undeniably the night's most thrilling moments had him taking stage center with or without Mosshart—and with or without his own white guitar. Whether it was intoning on Van Morrison's "You Just Can't Win" or joining in on "Die by the Drop," White's voice lept out from the stage to grab us by the skull for a good shake.
When the two came together on the mike, the Congress rippled with electricity—kind of like seeing a Jacob's Ladder jump between two people already possessed of an unholy excess of charisma.
The band's hip-hop blues tunes remind some critics of the RZA—and strangely enough, they come across that way live. While not an anthemic act by any means, the band's "Hustle and Cuss" and "Blue Blood Blues" have ample opportunities for crowd sing-a-longs. The Dead Weather, we must remind ourselves, are just over a year old, and are in the sweet spot of not knowing just what might happen next or exactly what its already done. It's not the slickest band in the top ten, and that's a good thing.
Opening act Harlem has a lot going for it in pure energy and momentum, some nifty basslines and trashy rhythmic approach, but the unforgiving Congress sound has been the ruin of even much more seasoned bands. Harlem came off like the best garage band from your college—probably a blast bashing through chords at a house party where everyone knows the words, but not so impressive on a big stage where its tunes lost any distinctiveness they have on record. The term slacker was slung around a lot in the ’90s, but it would apply more to the non-chalant strummy jams of Harlem than anyone else I can think of right now. The band seemed to know it wasn't going to blow anyone away and resorted to self-effacing banter. I'll have to give a chance in a club setting to be fair.