DETROIT -- The Raconteurs -- at least frontmen Jack White and Brendan Benson -- discovered that you can go home again. And maybe even have a good time doing it.
There's an odd and somewhat strained relationship these days between Detroit and its two native songs, who brought the Raconteurs to town Saturday (June 7) for the first of two shows at the Fillmore Detroit. Though the group formed and recorded its first album, 2006's "Broken Boy Soldiers," at Benson's home near Belle Isle, both men have since moved to Nashville. And they haven't hesitated to take their home town to task at every opportunity; most recently White, who also leads the White Stripes, likened Detroit's music scene to "an iron-maiden sort of torture device" in Rolling Stone magazine.
So who knew how either side would react to the other at the Raconteurs' first-ever Detroit shows (the quartet played Ann Arbor in 2006). But all was, in fact, sweetness and light; Saturday's crowd was sold-out and exuberant, and the Raconteurs were gracious enough. Though not going over the top with home town hubris, White did toss a quick but positive Detroit reference into an early-show vocal vamp, and during the encore he thanked the crowd for coming and for buying the Raconteurs' records. "We really appreciate it," he noted.
Most importantly, the Raconteurs delivered a hot and intense 90-minute concert that showcased the group's influence-saturated brand of progressive blues-rock, a heady and intricate blend of sounds that super-charged its two accomplished albums with expansive, galloping intensity. Focusing, not surprisingly, on this year's "Consolers of the Lonely" -- 11 of the night's 15 songs came from the album -- the Raconteurs played with a kind of comfortable familiarity that allowed the group to take chances and feel confident they wouldn't go awry.
A bona fide modern guitar hero, White, of course, is the star of the show, but seeing the Raconteurs in person demonstrates just how much of an ensemble it really is. Benson was no junior partner, splitting the lead vocals and even taking a few guitar solos of his own. And drummer Patrick Keeler -- who, along with bassist "Little" Jack Lawrence, hails from Cincinnati's the Greenhornes -- was a revelation, a force-of-nature style thumper who plays with plenty of flash without ever losing the pocket. And touring member Mark Watrous, who was curiously left out of the final bows, helped recreate the textures and nuances of the albums on keyboards and violin.
There were a highlights amidst the uniformly exciting show, too. White distinguished himself on piano during the quiet and pensive "You Don't Understand Me." "The Switch and the Spur" shined with shifting dynamics that recalled the progressive rock acts of the late '60s and early '70s, while "Intimate Secretary" the Raconteurs' cover of Terry Reid's "Rich Kid Blues" offered seriously fierce workouts that found White and Benson going toe-to-toe on their guitars.
The hit "Steady as She Goes" was well rendered and deftly expanded, but the show's real chill-inducing performance was "Blue Veins," the closing track from "Broken Boy Soldiers" that turned into a live epic, and ebb-and-flow showcase for White, who sank so deeply into the song that he unconsciously bumped into one of Keeler's cymbal stands, which the drummer caught just before it toppled. It was a tough moment to top, but the Raconteurs nearly did with the gothic murder ballad "Carolina Drama," which, despite its dark tone, elevated an already superlative evening.
Tickets, priced $33.25, remain for Sunday's (June 8) Raconteurs concert at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward. Showtime is 7:30 p.m., and the Black LIps open. Call (313) 961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com.
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