Matt and I have been to A LOT of concerts together over the last 24.5 (!!) years... but I think we would both agree that we have never been to a concert quite like the one we went to last night at Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. Warning: this might be a long one.
Part I: The Venue
I can't do this story justice without describing the significance of Shreveport Municipal Auditorium to music history. As soon as we started reading up on it, it was obvious why Jack White chose it for a stop on his latest tour: this place isn't just part of music history, it is all music history. And Jack White is all about music history.
The building is located in a heartbreakingly rundown section of Shreveport on Elvis Presley Avenue. This road was renamed Elvis Presley Avenue because Elvis Presley made his performance debut on the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium stage in 1954 during a radio broadcast of The Louisiana Hayride radio show, and in 1955 made his first-ever television appearance on the TV version of The Louisiana Hayride. He went on to perform every Saturday night here for the next 18 months (paid $18 a show) until Colonel Tom Parker bought out his contract. The original Louisiana Hayride ran from 1948-1960, and boasted a jaw-dropping list of country, rockabilly, rock-and-roll, and blues greats to include Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Lead Belly, and more. Incidentally, the reason why we've visited the Southern Maid donut store on Hearne Avenue twice at 4pm in the last two months was because of the history here: Johnny Cash endorsed them as the best donuts in the world on air.
On the Milam St. side, the building is bordered by Oakland Cemetery, which is huge—the final resting place of hundreds of yellow fever victims in the 1870s, over a thousand Confederate soldiers and veterans, and sad, unnamed gravesites that say things like "Mamma's Darling: 1887-1888." It is in terrible disrepair. I grew up traipsing yearly through cemeteries throughout northeast Ohio, and I was shocked by the condition of this place.
The auditorium itself just reopened since we've lived here, after ten years of extensive renovations. I am a lover of old buildings and downtowns and preserving every ounce of cool history that can be preserved in a place, so I'm rooting for the people with the vision to keep this corner of Shreveport from completely dying. With a history like this one, it is hard to understand how it all faded away in the first place. It looks like an awfully uphill battle from where I'm standing, but I am still hopeful.
It was positively glowing in the ginormous line we had to wait in to get inside last night... well, all 3000 of the people waiting for the sold-out show might have been positively glowing last night because it was ridiculously hot. But the building was at least glowing for the right reasons. If you study the list of stops for this tour, you can see the venues were chosen more often than not because they have some sort of greater, more golden history from a different era—they are not Denver's Pepsi Center, parking $40/car. More on that shortly.
Part II: The Concert
These next photos are used with permission; before the show started, the audience was asked to put cell phones away and experience the show with their hearts, eyes, and ears, and to kindly download the free photos taken by the band's photographer later. I was happy to comply, though I wish *I* had been the designated concert photographer, but whatever. Pictured here: a short tribute to Lead Belly at the very beginning.
Our seats look terrible but they weren't. It was all general admission, and we actually chose to head up instead of down—because the seating is so vertical (check out the people all the way to the rafters!) you can't get a bad seat, and it was actually quite close. And unless we have a special badge and roped off front-row floor section to enjoy the concert (spoiled rotten Cheyenne Frontier Days brats) we prefer not to be on the floor in our advanced age.
Simply put: Jack White is a musical genius. You know how you go to a concert and you hear the songs you're familiar with pretty much as is and that's a very satisfying and fun feeling? That is not the experience you get when you go to a Jack White concert. Instead, you kind of sit there partially agape (or with a strong case of wide-eyed Willis Smiling Disorder) because the songs you know? They are completely reinvented. You recognize them, but they are not the same. They are strange, wonderful variations. Between the brand-new songs not yet released until June 10 when Lazaretto comes out and this mix of stuff-you-know-that-you-don't-know and some really interesting surprise songs, it was a completely original collection of never-before and never-again music.
Here's the set list, for my reference (and yours, if you're interested):
1. High Ball Stepper
2. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
4. Temporary Ground
5. Hotel Yorba
6. Three Women
7. You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)8. Ball and Biscuit
9. Before You Accuse Me/Meet Me in the Morning/The Milk Cow Blues/Little Red Rooster
10. Icky Thump
11. Sugar Never Tasted So Good
12. Old Enough
13. You've Got Her In Your Pocket
14. Weep Themselves to Sleep
15. The Hardest Button to Button
16. Just One Drink
17. Hello Operator
18. Top Yourself
19. Steady, As She Goes
20. Hypocritical Kiss
21. Power Of My Love
22. Seven Nation Army
23. Goodnight, Irene
After comparing notes with the show just before in Tulsa, it was clear that this was a totally different concert—which kind of blows my mind. I mean, I get that when peformance is your job you have to know a lot of songs, but still... that's a lot of music. I was really impressed with how smoothly the transitions between songs went; he hit all the genres and it didn't sound odd or out of place in the least to move from violins and steel guitar and harmonica to screeching guitar and drums that felt as if they might actually launch through the ceiling. He made a big deal about how he chose to come here over Dallas or a second show in New Orleans, and we believed him because hello, he stalked Loretta Lynn until he convinced her to let him produce her next album (Van Lear Rose, a must-have). This is not someone who takes the legends of music lightly.
A few notes: song #21 was an Elvis Presley cover though Matt and I looked at each other kind of blankly, because it's not one we're familiar with. But it was performed with so much edge that you know that Elvis would have been pleased. I couldn't help but imagine the ghosts of musical past floating around that building last night, both a little perplexed at the sound and pleased at how alive it all was.
Just before the end, he gave a little speech about honoring the people that come before you: not just the musical legends that guided us all to this moment in music history, but the people that made your job easier for you no matter what kind of job you have; your uncles and parents and grandparents and more, for all that they taught you and for how they taught you to love your own family even more. By this point I was a little sniffly, because it was all just so sappy and perfect.
And then he broke out with Goodnight, Irene, which is both a lovely and troubled song that Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter (born in Caddo Parish, outside Shreveport) first recorded and popularized as his own in 1933, though it never had the commercial success for him that it did in later years when all-white groups like The Weavers recorded it. He recorded it for the Library of Congress in 1934 while incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola; a person's life just doesn't get more complex and complicated than that. I don't know all the verses, but I know enough to sing along some.
I will be honest: this year here in Louisiana has not been an easy one for us. It's been hard to find our footing, over and over again, and with a few very notable exceptions, we simply haven't clicked in many ways. But last night, singing Goodnight, Irene with 3000 other people with the lights up and the amps off and the spirit of Lead Belly palpable, we were the recipients of a gift that could only be experienced at that moment, in that place, with the rundown old cemetery to one side and a bunch of abandoned buildlings to the other. Matt read that Jack White left the stage in tears, and I don't think he was alone.