Jack White's incinerating double-band set at the Third Man Records showcase at SXSW on Friday night was a screaming reassurance to fans trepidatious about the post-White Stripes future of the prolific frontman. Running the track gamut through his various bands and projects after fantastic opening sets from White Rabbits, Reggie Watts, John Reilly and Karen Elson, White unleashed a nearly two-dozen song show at the Stage on Sixth – packed with new songs and old favorites – which concretely affirmed that the demise of The White Stripes is under no circumstance a signaled retreat from the days of Jack's blazing blues-rock lashings and furious guitar-solo spaz-outs.
Not only that, but the show guaranteed to fascinated fans that Blunderbuss, White's upcoming solo debut, is going to rip out your heart and rock it inside out.
White's set was broken into two portions featuring separate bands, and two entirely different musical atmospheres. The first, an all-woman outfit decked in baby blue, provided backing on more country-laced interpretations of Stripes hits and solo material. With duet partner Ruby Amansu volleying occasional vocals, Jack was free to interact with the band more, giving each their spotlight time in a run that spanned from heartfelt beauty to electric frenzy.
While Meg White's rudimentary beats served the perfect pacemaker purpose in the Stripes, Jack has traded up exponentially in the percussion department. His new drummers could not be more different from one another, but possess equal gravity and command in the performances, which were both notably percussion-driven. The woman, sporting a peacock feather arrangement in her hair and an all-business countenance, performed with a technical proficiency that White clearly reveled in as he continually returned to her side of the stage. The man, appearing right out of a hazy '60s jazz club, was a deep-beat monster with a notably masculine percussive sound.
With a full estrogen engine backing him, a new baby-blue color scheme and a gorgeous retro-classic amp/pedal design, White arrived as part Orson Welles, part blues demon, all class.
Working through full-band versions of Stripes favorites Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground and Hotel Yorba was a treat within itself for fans who worried they'd never see these classics again, but it was an astonishingly strong, inventive take on The Raconteurs' Top Yourself that laid on the band's magic and showcased with full clarity why Jack has so carefully chosen this new method of live musical execution. This current arrangement allows for a versatility of sound and dynamic that serves as an amalgamation of White's various bands, a travel-ready Swiss Army kit with which he can orchestrate the alchemy with unfettered command.
Another first-set highlight was You Know That I Know, White's hauntingly accusatory contribution to the Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project, as well as Two Against One from the Rome project with Danielle Luppi and Danger Mouse. The latter was prefaced by a long, slow psychedelic intro that made the track execution all the more engaging upon entry.
After changing into a maroon T-shirt, White returned to the stage with his all-male band for an even longer set that began with an even-more-percussive My Doorbell (which was already drum-driven to begin with), leading into another new song that kept the rollicking, upbeat energy flowing. An extended "hepcat freakout jam" (as my notes indicate) was the precursor to a funked-out, reworked version of The Dead Weather's Cut Like a Buffalo that once again took advantage of the multitude of talent onstage, spacing out the song sections and fucking with the arrangements within the smoldering groove.
A searing take on Hello Operator followed, with Ikey Owens (The Mars Volta) literally punching the keys during a blazing instrumental duel with White. The next new offering, Hypocritical Kiss, found Jack's vocal melody matching the swing of the guitar chords and finished with an extended jam. Following stomping and wildly celebrated renditions of The Hardest Button to Button and Ball and a Biscuit, a take on Seven Nation Army (complete with trademark screaming-jetfire solo) that found both the capacity crowd and the hundreds of revelers watching in the street singing "Whoaaaa-o-o-o-oohh-ohhh" along with the beat, at Jack's encouragement.
The night ended in cinematic bliss with an entire-crowd singalong of Leadbelly's tender Goodnight Irene, with Bill Murray singing his heart out along with us, standing on top of the bar in back. We could see the enthralled crowd outside, an extension of those of us in the room, but beyond that the world simply did not exist. We were in Third Man territory, a congregation of fully converted hopefuls, celebrating a new era in the path of one of the most prolific, driven and talented frontmen of our time. The Stripes are gone, the landscape has changed, but Jack isn't going anywhere.
Setlist (partial) First Set – female band:
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
You Know That I Know
Two Against One
Slowly Turning Into You
Second set – male band:
Cut Like a Buffalo
Hardest Button to Button
Steady As She Goes
Ball and Biscuit
Seven Nation Army