There was never a chance that the Raconteurs, Jack White’s hardest rocking group project, were going to be a let down during their ACL set at the American Express stage. White, co-vocalist and guitarist Brendan Benson and crew are notoriously fierce instrumentalists, and they seemed to thrive in being swallowed by the sound during their early evening set. (White immediately struck a fond chord for the Austinites in the audience with his t-shirt, which sported the iconic “Hi How Are You” artwork done by beloved Austin musician Daniel Johnston, who recently passed.)
The group kicked off the set ferociously and never pulled back, not even for a minute, not even when they occasionally integrated a keyboard or an acoustic guitar. The second song they played, “Level,” is luxuriously groovy in its recorded form, but onstage, it was hard and howling. Both vibes are awesome, so it’s not like that was a bad thing, but it definitely set the tone for the rest of the hour. Album recordings marked by swaggery hooks transformed into face-melters. Song after song featured the hottest of licks and the sharpest of shreds. Pure rock and roll, baby.
Benson and White’s energies play off one another so well -- White a frenetic, near-possesed god of rock, Benson a slim, slick force of stability and groove. It’s especially engaging whenever the two really dig into the personalities of their instruments and have what can only be described as guitar conversations.
And what guitars! With every new song it seemed the guitar techs were bringing out another sick axe. Benson’ mint green one was my personal favorite, but it was hard not to be wowed by White’s shiny golden guitar as it glinted in the sun.
Speaking of the sun, during one of the band’s brief banter interludes, White barked into the microphone “Donald Trump says the sun does not exist because there’s no proof...so you’re not hot right now, are ya?” The crowd, as you might have guessed, went wild.
The Raconteurs closed their set with an extended version of the haunting, bluesy ice cold “Blue Veins,” which pulled every last ounce of energy out of the performers, who gathered like one big band family at the end for a group bow. It’s well established by now, but if you needed any reminder, the Raconteurs are one hell of a rock and roll band.