POP MUSIC

Jack White, left (shown in a concert last Tuesday), sometimes unfocused at the Patriot Center; Ray Price, right (in a 2006 photo), relaxed and mellow at the Birchmere; and Randy Travis, below, offering a long string of hits at Wolf Trap.
Jack White, left (shown in a concert last Tuesday), sometimes unfocused at the Patriot Center; Ray Price, right (in a 2006 photo), relaxed and mellow at the Birchmere; and Randy Travis, below, offering a long string of hits at Wolf Trap. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
Monday, July 30, 2007

White Stripes

The Detroit-bred rock/blues/etc. duo the White Stripes have two speeds: faster and fastest. Okay, not really. Their catalogue, one of the strongest in 21st-century throwback-pop, boasts a handful of nice ballads, and the Delta blues covers of leader Jack White are mighty convincing for a white kid from Detroit. And on his records, Jack is a master of pacing, possessed of an unerring instinct about when to change tempo, when to extend a riff, when to stop one in its incendiary tracks.

Alas, that instinct seemed to have gone AWOL for the first hour of the Stripes' intermittently thrilling but weirdly unfocused concert at the Patriot Center Saturday night. Jack White loves the digression and the smash-cut. When it works, the effect is electrifying, as when he followed the opening "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" by braiding together the title track from the band's fine "Icky Thump" CD with "When I Hear My Name."

But he just as often seemed like a fickle dining companion pondering the menu: A riff of this -- nope! -- a lick of that -- no, not that one, either -- while drummer Meg White watched him, drumsticks poised like a hummingbird above a flower. Monitor problems may have been partially to blame: Pinstripe-suited roadies scurried about the two-level stage for most of the main set, and at one point Jack complained, "It sounds like absolute donkey up here!"

The 30-minute encore, by contrast, was just dandy. "300 MPH Torrential Downpour Blues," "Seven Nation Army," "We're Going to Be Friends" and then a lovely pair of covers that spanned the range of Jack's musical interests: Buck Owens's "Sam's Place," along with "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself." If you've never witnessed thousands of people all rocking out to a Burt Bacharach song, it's something to see.

-- Chris Klimek

Randy Travis

Randy Travis's set Friday night at Wolf Trap was long on music -- 27 songs in 100 minutes -- and admirably short on chatter, but that's not hard to do when you're 48 and have been performing since you were 10. Even his occasional pauses for a joke or story seemed more purposeful than filler; Travis was a commanding presence despite his scrawny physique.

Many of his songs shared a similar tone, tempo and topic, which he emphasized further by joining three affectionate ballads: the pleading "This Is Me," the joyful "Look Heart, No Hands" and the tender "Whisper My Name." But his set wasn't all crooning love songs. The speedy "Better Class of Losers" described a rowdy way of life, while "The Hole" showed off Travis's rich, deep register.

Even with the long string of predictable hits, the set contained a few pleasant surprises. Accompanied only by pedal steel and his acoustic guitar, Travis covered the Beatles' "Nowhere Man," his slow, melancholy vocals and sparse arrangement amplifying the song's quiet isolation. But the night's most unexpected moment came when he performed a request from his own catalogue, "I Won't Need You Anymore." Confessing that he hadn't performed it in years, Travis called out the song's key, and the eight-piece backup band joined him in the melancholy tune.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

Ray Price

Moments before Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price stepped onstage at the Birchmere on Saturday night, a string section joined his band, the Cherokee Cowboys. Small wonder the 81-year-old Texan seemed so at home crooning lushly orchestrated renditions of "Crazy Arms," "City Lights," "Please Release Me," "For the Good Times" and other hits.

Looking dapper and relaxed as ever, Price referenced old friends Bob Wills and Hank Williams before saluting them with plenty of help from fiddler Dale Morris Jr. and pedal steel guitarist Mike Cass. Willie Nelson, a former Cherokee Cowboy, was also represented by his signature blues "Night Life," a terrific showcase for Price's ever-mellow baritone. Moving through a decades-old repertoire, from Southwestern swing and honky-tonk tunes to such romantic ballads as "Blue Spanish Eyes," Price could be forgiven for a rote performance or two. Yet he never sounded as if he had grown tired of a lyric, no matter how familiar or sentimental.

Price said he's spending a lot of time this summer with Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson on their "Last of the Breed" tour, proving to folks that country music isn't dead, radio just stopped playing it. By the time he capped the show with Williams's "Mansion on the Hill," no one at the Birchmere needed reminding. "Last of the Breed" stops at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sept. 6.

-- Mike Joyce


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