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Jack White Returns: Record Store Day at Third Man Records

on April 20, 2014, 7:36pm
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Saturday

7:30 a.m.

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Photo by Carson O’Shoney

The next morning, I arrived at Third Man HQ to find an already hefty crowd filling the block in two lines. One line lead to the booth in front of the store, where they would eventually sell the “World’s Fastest Record” if all went according to plan. The other came to an end on the back porch, near the entrance to Third Man’s famed Blue Room. Everyone in line already had a ticket or was on the list, yet some superfans had been camping out since 5:30 p.m. — as in, the evening before. Remnants of tents could be found strewn around in these wee hours from the campers who were that committed. Elsewhere, Third Man offered bagels, coffee, and mimosas to those souls brave enough to greet the dawn on their turf. Just as people were starting to actually wake up, the doors opened to the Blue Room at around 8:30 a.m., and everyone filed in.

9:45 a.m.

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Photo by Jo McCaughey

At 9:45 sharp, the doors closed and no one was allowed in or out until the show was over. Ten minutes later, self-proclaimed Third Man Consiglieri Ben Swank hit the stage to get the crowd pumped about ground rules. Or maybe get them pumped, and then provide ground rules. Regardless, he gave the standard no cameras speech, except at Third Man they really mean it. In fact, if they catch you, they’ll delete the picture and kick you out immediately, no questions asked. He then explained the day’s process of both recording to tape and cutting directly to acetate. It would go something like this: The band will come out and play one song to get the levels right, then a quick break, cut the single, another quick break, cut the B-side, another quick break, and then an intimate set. Simple enough. Our only task as an audience was to go nuts when they first came on and go even more nuts when the live cutting began. We were up for the challenge.

10:00 a.m.

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Photo by Jo McCaughey

As Ben Swank left the stage, the myriad of musicians in Jack White’s backing band took the stage. It was a mix of Buzzards and Peacocks, his respective all-male and all-female backing bands that he alternated on his Blunderbuss tours. White followed close behind them, escorted by two Third Man employees fully decked out in CHiPs uniforms. The crowd acted as if Lazarus had risen from the dead, just as Swank had instructed. Shortly after, White and his band launched into the first taste of Lazaretto that we’ve already been offered: “High Ball Stepper”. It was even heavier than the massive studio version we’ve all heard. Behind White sat the sole piece of set dressing: an old tube television that was somehow connected to his guitar. When he wasn’t touching the strings, the TV showed a still image of White’s iconic “III”, but the image reacted to his guitar. In other words, the louder he played, the more distorted the image became. It was fascinating to watch a visual representation of the sound he got from his guitar.

Once the opener came to a close and George Ingram — Third Man’s mad scientist and master of live cutting — spoke over the PA, the energy in the room elevated as we were all about to witness the first step in this record-setting process. The back-and-forth from the stage and the cutting room behind it made things even more exciting. There was a timing element to it that had to be right, which heightened the urgency. The countdown was like a NASA shuttle launch, and Ingram shouting, “We’re in the groove!” was our “Liftoff!”

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Photo by Jo McCaughey

White & Co. then launched into his new album’s single and title track, “Lazaretto”, a high-energy buzzer in which White quasi-sings and raps à la “Freedom at 21”. Expect to hear it all over alternative radio this summer. A small break was required to get a new slate of acetate on the table to record the B-side, and White took the opportunity to introduce the band. Some familiar faces included Daru Jones, Dominic Davis, and Cory Younts of the Buzzards in addition to Lillie Mae Rische of the Peacocks, along with some other new faces. That band, which varied from six to nine people depending on the song, was on fire all morning. They had an arsenal of instruments at their disposal — from slide guitars to autoharps. Drummer Daru Jones, in particular, was a joy to watch, just like he was on all Buzzards shows from the last tour. His energy was palpable, and his enthusiasm was only matched by the audience, who didn’t get the memo that it wasn’t even noon yet. They were just as rowdy as if it had been a drunken midnight at the bar.

When the time came to cut the B-side to tape, the band launched into a cover of Elvis Presley’s “The Power of My Love”, which stylistically fit in with the rest of the set. During another short break, while the acetate masters were being hurried out the door to be driven to United Record Pressing, White admitted, “We were originally going to cut the record and go back to sleep, but we figured you guys wouldn’t like it if we didn’t at least play a couple more.” They did more than that, launching into a set that lasted nine more songs for an hour-long show. First up was “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, the same slightly more bluesy version that was played on the Blunderbuss tour, which was followed by “Freedom at 21”.

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Photo by Jo McCaughey

After those two, it seemed that he might not debut any more material than the already-released song and the previously scheduled performance of the new single, but he put those worries to rest with Lazaretto opener “Three Women”. With White on piano instead of guitar, it had a bluesier feel to it than most of the other songs, even squeezing in a distinct southern flavor (“Oh lordy lord” is repeated throughout). The potentially semi-autobiographical song chronicles the protagonists’ three women — “red, blonde, & brunette” from Nashville, California, and Detroit (ahem, Karen, Renée, & Meg, perhaps?) — and is filled with White’s trademark storytelling humor.

Photo by Jo McCaughey

RSD_TMR_2014013“Just One Drink”, another new track, played after “Love Interruption” and a crowd-led rendition of “Hello Operator”. Another humorous track, this one was decidedly heavier, although it retained that loose, playful feel. White seemed genuinely happy to be onstage, smiling from ear to ear during most of the second half of the set, culminating in the penultimate song, “Hotel Yorba”. The crowd sang every word, and White let them take the lead on certain parts. Eventually, things took a more serious turn with one last new song as the closer: “Would You Fight for My Love?”. The unique track pressed down with all the dramatic weight of White’s best songs.

The show ended just before 11:00 a.m.. Granted, the whole experience of seeing a show that early in the morning is strange enough, but with a show like that, it has the potential to ruin the rest of the day before you even eat lunch. Where else is there to go but down when you start your day with an incredible Jack White show at the house that he built with only about 250 other lucky folks? Luckily, Third Man had plenty of fun stuff planned for the rest of the day.

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