Well, in case you were wondering, Jack White is gonna play the hits when he takes to the road to promote his solo debut, Blunderbuss. So The Spin learned last night at White’s Third Man Records, where a private party celebrating the label/record store/rock club’s third anniversary included not one but two full-length, unisexy performances with two backing bands — one all-male and one all-female, as we saw on SNL last week — for a crowd of a couple hundred.
Save for SNL, this was essentially White’s first gig as a solo artist. And to the shock of many if not most attendees, both sets brimmed with cherry-picked chestnuts from the Jack White back catalog, with White Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather staples such as “Seven Nation Army,” “Steady, as She Goes” and “I Cut Like Buffalo” outnumbering new cuts two-to-one. And each sounded fresh — White didn’t play the crowd-pleasers like a begrudging human jukebox, but instead like he was rediscovering them.
That said, the Blunderbuss jams — a seeming even distribution of soulful, rootsy, writerly tracks and supercharged, riff-rife rockers — held their own alongside the hits, showing that White has just as much confidence in his new material as he is ready to embrace his rock-star legacy status and deliver the victory lap of singles and choice fan favorites that can keep an arena-filling audience on its feet, and in many instances on its toes.
Not really knowing what to expect, we rolled up to Third Man and found ourselves immediately forced to forfeit our cell phones. In turn, at night’s end we were rewarded with a TMR tote bag containing a single souvenir LP featuring the label’s first three years' worth of singles from its Blue Series. How is that possible? The plate plays at 3 RPM. Really. Suffice it to say, the 28-artist, 56-track, long-assed long player is sure to be worth a shit load on eBay. And no, we’re not selling our copies, so don’t even ask. Much to our obvious delight, the pre-performance, backstage bash boasted an open bar tended by Patterson House and eats catered by Merchants. Classy. With spirits high, records spinning and local rock and media chums abounding, this was quite the hobnob.
A brief, plodding set from ominously — and perhaps intentionally — off-putting, down-tuned, two-girls-one-guy, minimalist sludge-rock trio Hell Beach that (for band and audience alike) mutually felt like waiting out an awkward date warmed the crowd up for White.
Decked out head-to-toe in a powder-blue suit and with his all-female backing band in tow, White wasted no time in showing his hand, kicking off Set One with a true-to-form “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” followed by a trio of Blunderbuss cuts including the recent single “Love Interruption” and the other SNL selection, “Sixteen Saltines” — the latter of which White played with the male band on last week's telecast. We were told that White is taking both bands out on the road and each has learned the same repertoire, meaning there are two musical interpretations of each song.
Thursday night, the ladies played the tighter, more concentrated of the two sets, however, they rocked much, much harder than during the somewhat staid SNL performance. Highlights included an upright bass-, pedal steel- and fiddle-augmented arrangement of “Hotel Yorba” that elevated the song to an honest-to-God hoe-down and a to-pin-drop-silent-crowd “We’re Going to Be Friends” to close the set.
Following a brief intermission, White — now wearing all black — returned to the stage to lead the sausage-party lineup through a hard-driving set of rocking, free-wheeling takes on favorites like “My Doorbell,” “Ball and Biscuit” and “Seven Nation Army,” the second verse and middle section of the latter adapted in a loopy half-time feel.
The difference between the two bands was night and day, and which one was better was really a matter of preference. Whereas the girls took on the songs in a way that was fluid and focused, the guys attacked them with unpredictable ferocity. Especially when it came to drummer Daru Jones — a total fucking badass, BTW — who drove the band all over the dynamic map with out-of-left-field fills and feels. It was obvious that White took to some of Jones’ choices like kicks to the teeth, while others put a fire under his ass that saw him lunging uncontrollably across the stage as he worked to match the intensity. The musical tension onstage made for a fascinating, exhilarating rock ’n’ roll spectacle to behold. And White looked more engaged and like he was having more fun onstage than he has during any performance we’ve seen him participate in over the last few years. And the euphoric grin on his face as he closed out the night to the sound of the crowd singing Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene” suggested he was as blown away by his own rebirth as the rest of us were.
The show was a blast. Not just for White and the other musicians onstage. Not just for The Spin. Not just for the handful of self-pinching superfans who made it inside. But also for White’s ex-wife Karen Elson — who was front-row-center dancing and singing along — as well as White’s Raconteurs and Dead Weather bandmates, who were rocking out in the crowd as well. Good times.
Set list (via):
1. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
2. Missing Pieces
3. Sixteen Saltines
4. Love Interruption
5. Hotel Yorba
6. Top Yourself
7. Hypocritical Kiss
8. You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)
9. Blue Blood Blues
10. We're Going to be Friends
— intermission —
1. Freedom at 21
2. My Doorbell
3. I Cut Like a Buffalo
4. You Know That I Know
5. Weep Themselves to Sleep
6. Ball and Biscuit
7. Steady, As She Goes
8. Seven Nation Army
9. Goodnight Irene