By Jason SchneiderLess than a week after his world debut as a solo artist playing two songs on Saturday Night Live with two separate five-piece bands -- one all-female and one all-male -- Jack White offered a larger dose of his latest incarnation in the intimate surroundings of his Third Man Records studio. The exotically decorated Paisley Park-like facility reflects the increasingly Prince-like attributes of White these days, although those were more obvious in the musical versatility he displayed during the night's two 45-minute sets.
During the pre-show reception in the Third Man lounge, White mingled with his Raconteurs and Dead Weather bandmates, as well as his mother who made the trip from Detroit. The convivial atmosphere tempered the visual shock of seeing White depart from his usual red/white/black colour scheme for this project. Taking the stage in a powder blue, western-cut suit, he led the similarly attired female band into the White Stripes' "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," fleshed out by standup bass, fiddle and pedal steel, yet still retaining all its original fire. From there, White dipped into the batch of soulful new material, including single "Love Interruption" and Blunderbuss's opening track "Missing Pieces." But like the revamped "Dead Leaves," what left most jaws agape were versions of White Stripes classics "You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)," "Hotel Yorba," and "We're Going to Be Friends." These selections did draw attention to the absence of Meg White, but the way that both drummers channelled her playing style ultimately made her presence felt.
That first set was a tough act to follow, and the room was buzzing in anticipation of seeing if the guys could top it. Dressed down to a more familiar black T-shirt and pants combination, White and the boys came out firing on all cylinders with a heavy take on "My Doorbell," and continued in a more hard-edged direction with Blunderbuss's darkly syncopated "Freedom at 21." The emphasis on funk made it no surprise that this set featured a dip into the Dead Weather's two albums, and it was enjoyably surreal to observe that band's singer, Alison Mosshart, down front banging her head to "I Cut Like a Buffalo" while fending off those around the Kills member urging her to get on stage. From there, the show built to satisfying climax consisting of the Raconteurs' "Steady, As She Goes" and the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," and even though White hardly needed to generate any further warm feelings among those gathered, he sent everyone off into the Nashville night smiling with a rendition of the folk and country standard "Goodnight Irene."
Jack White has always taken risks, and this night displayed the conviction he has in his artistic vision, combined with the faith he shows in everyone with whom he surrounds himself. White is beginning another new chapter in his career, and by all indications, it's going to be a rich and fulfilling one.