Indeed, White and his Third Man Records have established a sort of spotlight-stealing, go-big-or-go-home modus operandi when it comes to Record Store Day — whether White is serving as RSD ambassador, receiving the Music City Ambassadorship from Mayor Karl Dean or hosting Jerry Lee Lewis. This year (after a breakfast for the early-bird fans), White kicked things off with an exclusive performance in TMR’s Blue Room.
After hustling past the gathered throngs, through Third Man’s Oz-like entrance door and beyond the main corridor’s forced-perspective painting, The Spin found ourselves in the room with a couple hundred high-dollar-ticket-purchasing super-fans and members of the press, all bathed in a disorientingly blue light. At 10 a.m. We can't really use the word "disorienting" enough here. We were sealed in, and Third Man co-founder Ben Swank took the stage to briefly explain the process and lay the ground rules: Jack and his band would be playing “Lazaretto” and the 7-inch’s B-side (a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Power of My Love”), both of which would be recorded live to acetate on a lathe visible through a window behind the stage. Then, as the lacquer was making its way to United Record Pressing just a few blocks away, White & Co. would play a full set. Also, Swank explained, a no-photography/no-cellphones-for-any-reason policy would be enforced. “We are all making history together,” he said.
White’s band — mostly familiar faces from members of either his all-male touring band, The Buzzards, or his all-female touring band, The Peacocks — took their places, before the man of the hour made his entrance, flanked by a pair of dudes clad in CHiPs-esque highway patrolmen uniforms (one of whom was TMR co-founder and White’s nephew, Ben Blackwell). Arranged in a sort of semi-circle behind White, from left to right, the band included: powerhouse drummer Daru Jones; longtime White friend and collaborator Dominic Davis on bass; the new-to-us Scout Paré-Phillips on vocals and autoharp; ubiquitous local sideman Fats Kaplin (who White joked was simultaneously cutting a collaboration with Buddy Miller while onstage) on steel, fiddle and mandolin; Cory Younts on mandolin, harmonica and vocals; Lillie Mae Rische on fiddle and vocals; and the inimitable Ikey Owens on keys.
The band warmed up with “High Ball Stepper,” the recently released instrumental number from the forthcoming Lazaretto. Then, the “Cutting” light over the stage — which Blackwell had referred to as the “panty-dropper” when leading a TMR press walk-through the previous day — flipped on, and White and his Buzzards/Peacocks (shall we call them them Buzzcocks? Is that name taken?) plunged into the song of the day. Our notes tell us that “Lazaretto” is a characteristically White-ian blues-rock number filled with quick-spitting, sung-spoken vocals. But more than the song itself, we recall the nerve-racking sense of pressure that loomed as the acetate’s cutting was being overseen by Nashville Record Productions’ George A. Ingram. Nevertheless, the song seemed to go off without a hitch — really though, who can say, since no one had ever heard it before. White & Co. followed that with the aforementioned Elvis cover, on which onetime Black Belle Olivia Jean played baritone. The song, White would later explain, had originally been considered for Wanda Jackson's JW-produced The Party Ain't Over, but it made a lot of sense in the hands of the former White Stripe. Like his "Love Interruption" from 2012's Blunderbuss, "Power of My Love" anthropomorphizes the very abstract and lofty concept of love — puts it in visceral terms, even fights with it.
By 11 a.m., White had left the stage, and we were turned out to rejoin the rest of the proletariat. Naturally, the Third Man superfans were all lined up at a booth out front awaiting the single's arrival. And naturally, the superfans had questions for the folks who had caught the performance. While they waited, fans were treated to performances from Waxed and Jawws, a pair of promising local teenage punk bands. With other Record Store Day festivities taking place citywide, The Spin couldn't stick around to catch those kiddos or briefly reunited Michiganders Whirlwind Heat (also playing an exclusive set in the Blue Room).
Now, any day we can see performers as goddamn gifted as Fats Kaplin and Daru Jones, any day we can hear Jack White play a genuinely fantastic song like "Dead Leaves," any day we can see a show that's as expertly mixed and delivered as the one we'd just witnessed — well, that's a good day. Some might say that the prohibitive expense of such a show and, let's be honest, the full-on gimmick of making the "world's fastest record" don't exactly jibe with the inclusive, DIY spirit of Record Store Day. But White and his bros built TMR from the ground up with the intention of giving their fans precisely what they want. So long as the fans keep showing up in droves and walking away clutching their special releases in (sometimes literally tearful) glee, we'd say Third Man is giving the people what they want. And so long as White & Co. keep giving up-and-comers like Waxed and Jawws big opportunities, The Spin will keep on giving them the friendly neighborhood thumbs-up.