Review: The Dead Weather; July 19, 2010; House of Blues, San Diego

Photo credit: Nic Adler

The Dead Weather may be known as Jack White’s band, but make no mistake — the real draw is
lead singer Alison Mosshart.

Much like White’s other side project, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather can feel like just a fun way for White to get his classic-rock geek on. Similarly, Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence’s guitar and bass work seems to exist only to plop out schlocky, metal-inspired riffs. But it is Mosshart who injects the band with some much-needed soul and, at the House of Blues show on Monday night, she brought enough for everybody.

Pacing around the stage like a cat in heat, belting out sensual, dangerous vocals behind a curtain of raven-black hair, Mosshart could have been Meg White’s evil twin. On “60 Feet Tall,” Mosshart purred and bellowed, wringing each note from her clutched microphone. The band backed her with some sauntering, bluesy riffs that exploded into a steamy solo by Fertita.

Despite White’s presence behind the drum set, all eyes remained fixed on Mosshart. The frontwoman deserved every bit of the attention, using her powerhouse vocals to drill through each song’s intensely bland, ham-fisted riffs. But even she couldn’t save the cheesy single “Die By the Drop,” which capsized under the weight of its bloated, misguided chorus riff.

The musicians in The Dead Weather have many talents, but restraint isn’t one of them. Everyone seemed determined to play louder and flashier than everybody else, but the contest’s only loser was the audience. The band harked back to 70s-era rock excess — despite being disguised in an all-black, Hot Topic-inspired wardrobe that fell just this side of camp — but their partially digested, riff-happy instrumentation began to run together after only a few songs.

Though formulaic, the set wasn’t without its highlights. “I Cut Like a Buffalo” — off their debut album, Horehound — broke from the herd, thanks to some soaring gang vocals, haunted house organ, and a hip hop beat. “Hang You From the Heavens” was propelled by Mosshart’s Joplin-esque vocals and White’s sizzling percussion. And White lent some much needed gravitas to the set’s finale, strapping on a guitar and sharing a steamy duet with Mosshart.

Those highlights went a long way, but couldn’t make up for the nondescript, thrashy hailstorm that pervaded the performance. Playing in The Dead Weather may be fun for White, but exiling a guitarist of his caliber behind a drum kit — even if that exile is self-imposed — is a waste of his talents. Luckily, Mosshart was on hand to show everybody how enthralling it can be when a talented musician is allowed to rise to the occasion.

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