Until the middle of last week, rising country artist Morgan Wallen was set to appear as the musical guest on the second episode of the new Saturday Night Live season, filmed before a masked audience. The singer appeared on video partying unmasked in a crowded space the weekend before and was disinvited from the show for not adhering to its COVID-19 safety protocols. To his credit, Wallen offered a seemingly genuine apology. His last-minute replacement, announced Friday, was Jack White.
The Third Man Records chief and former White Stripe called on drummer Daru Jones and bassist Dominic Davis, the core of his Lazaretto-era rhythm section, to play as a power trio. The group had very little time to rehearse, a scenario that may have played into the show picking a previous guest over a deserving new talent. SNL is a major platform, and it’s disappointing that someone like Mickey Guyton didn’t get the nod. But as you can see from the clips of the broadcast, White & Co. turned in a pretty damned electrifying performance.
Current events seemed to inform the choice of songs, similar to White’s power-trio gig at a Bernie Sanders rally last year. Above, see the opening medley, built around “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” Beyoncé’s searing confrontation of a liar from Lemonade, which was made in collaboration with White and Ruby Amanfu. Also in the mix are the Stripes’ snarling blues staple “Ball and Biscuit” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” Johnson, a Texas-born blues songsmith, wove history into his work; “God Moves on the Water,” recently covered by Larkin Poe, is about the sinking of the Titanic, while “Jesus Is Coming Soon” reflects on the influenza epidemic of 1918.
White & Co.’s second number was “Lazaretto,” which comes from the perspective of a character isolated in a hospital. You can see that one below. There are a couple of subtle tributes to fallen musical heroes. First, note Davis’ John Prine T-shirt, worn on what would have been the legendary songwriter’s 74th birthday. Also, White switched over from his customized Fender Telecaster to an EVH Wolfgang, designed by the late, great biracial Dutch and Indonesian guitar hero Eddie Van Halen, who died of cancer at age 65 on Tuesday. White wrote on Instagram that his Wolfgang was customized under Van Halen’s personal supervision. Though White said he wouldn’t “insult the man’s talent by trying to play one of his songs,” he did sneak in a little fret-tapping tribute near the end of “Lazaretto.”