Jack White just can’t give himself a break. After spending years switching bands seamlessly from The White Stripes to The Raconteurs to The Dead Weather to keep busy, he found himself in a position to take some time off. The Stripes officially went dormant, the recent flurry of Raconteurs activity proved to be short-lived, and his other bandmates in The Dead Weather went on to other projects. It was a perfect storm that he could have used to finally slow down from his prolific pace of the past decade or so. Of course, Jack being Jack, he decided to forgo that and went solo by announcing a new album and some headlining festival dates. The first question that popped up in the collective mind of the fans: “What will he play?” Of course, there would be his new material, but would he really play Stripes songs without Meg? Would he really play songs from his two other still active bands? You can never quite tell with someone as meticulous as Jack White. Spoiler alert: He played the hits.
Chattanooga had been abuzz ever since White announced last month that he’d be kicking off his first ever solo tour at Track 29. Tickets sold out immediately, disappointed fans took to Track 29s Facebook page to cry foul, tickets popped up on Craigslist for $300+, and White had suddenly become the talk of the town. For an area that historically hasn’t brought in many big tours – being so close to both Nashville and Atlanta – a coup like this becomes more than just a show, it becomes a significant event. Much like when The Avett Brothers took a break from playing arenas to perform at the 1,800 capacity Track 29, locals will point to this show for years to come as a major happening in the city. The tangible excitement never died down from the moment the show was announced until the day of the show, when brave fans began lining up outside the venue at five in the morning for the nine o’clock gig.
By the time doors opened, the line was sprawling out of control. It took nearly a full hour to get everyone inside of the venue. Once inside, concertgoers were greeted with a thick wall of fog and long lines for the limited merch. The opener, Hell Beach, came onstage to little fanfare and played a straightforward set of sludgy rock that sometimes rose above average and got the crowd moving. They fit the bill of a band that White would get to open for him – dressed in all black, the female lead singer had the look of a gothic Karen O. The set was solid but short, and the crowd was ready for White.
Just after 10 o’clock, White’s all female band created silhouettes against the baby blue background accentuated with his “III” symbol. Followed closely behind was the man himself, and as soon as Mr. White came into view, the crowd erupted. When the first notes of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” filled the room, it got even louder. That led straight into another scorcher – “Sixteen Saltines”, the second song from his Saturday Night Live set. The first previously unheard new song was played next, and it set a precedent for his new solo material. The new songs were widely varied – everywhere in between the acoustic groove of “Love Interruption” and the big riffs of “Sixteen Saltines”. But they all had the distinct flavor of White, and sounded fantastic live thanks to his spectacular band. Interestingly enough, the all female band remained on-stage all night – there was no switching to an all male band as there was for the SNL show and the secret warm-up Third Man show.
The band – comprised of a drummer, an upright bassist, a fiddler, a slide guitarist, a keyboardist (Brooke Waggoner, herself a Nashville singer-songwriter) and a backup singer – not only presented the new songs perfectly, but they also added a new element to all the material from White’s back catalogue. Most of the old songs turned a bit more twangy to varying degrees. It started with the second Stripes track, “Hotel Yorba”, which White introduced by saying that he “wanted to play a country song for the Tennesseans.” “Hotel Yorba” is already more country than most things found in the White Stripes discography, but it really hit the Nashville chord when fleshed out with his new band. The Raconteurs’ “Top Yourself” came next, and received the same treatment. Most of the songs just had a little additional flair – a fiddle here, a slide guitar there – while perhaps the most simple song, “We’re Going to be Friends”, received the biggest overhaul. For a song that was always just White and an acoustic guitar, the full band rendition was a little off-putting at first. It was a fine version, but it couldn’t compete with the original.
The crowd was 100% into every song, but none more than “I’m Slowly Turning Into You”, “Seven Nation Army” and “Ball and Biscuit”. The crowd has always been very receptive of the former track, and there was no exception with the new band; almost every fan in attendance enthusiastically hit every “WOO!” without missing a beat. ”Seven Nation Army” turned Track 29 into a soccer stadium, as the recent trend of the song being the chant at soccer/football/etc games came full circle. The penultimate song of the night was “Ball and Biscuit”, which took the crowd’s frantic energy of the night and multiplied it tenfold. As soon as White hit those solos, the noise levels went through the roof, as the crowd hit a high that was previously unimaginable. While “Ball and Biscuit” was the clear highlight of the night, there was still one more song left in the set. White and the band covered the Leadbelly folk standard “Goodnight Irene”, which put a calm over the crowd as he led a singalong.
As he said goodnight to “Chatta-nooga”, after nearly an hour and a half of performing, it was easy to tell how appreciative the crowd was for the chance to see him. “Thank you Jack!” was yelled continuously throughout the show, and the crowd gave rapturous applause as he exited the stage. He appeared just as appreciative, saying that he just wanted to play some small shows to test out his new songs as he thanked the crowd multiple times. One thing is clear, White knows what his audience wants and he is more than happy to oblige them. His billing at Sasquatch! and Hangout have been justified – he’s playing the hits.
Photography courtesy of Jack White III.com
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
I Cut Like a Buffalo
I’m Slowly Turning Into You
We’re Going to be Friends
Seven Nation Army
You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)
Ball and Biscuit
Goodnight Irene (Leadbelly cover)