Tuesday, August 14th, was likely a good day for Jack White. The fact that there was enough market demand for a return trip to Seattle after playing Sasquatch barely three months ago was impressive enough, but the line of fans waiting outside WaMu Theatre’s doors (according to one of them, the earliest fanatic arrived at 6 a.m.) and the long line formed to purchase Third Man Records goods from the Third Man Rolling Record Store (making a surprise appearance) were sure signs that, if nothing else, the show was going to have some good vibes sent to the Nashville-via-Detroit musician from the members of the church of Third Man Records. Additionally, aside from selling a truckload of tickets and merchandise, Jack White reaffirmed that he’s one of the best – if not the best – acts on the arena/auditorium circuit with a stunner of a show that would probably be just as thrilling if he returned in another three months.
For those unfamiliar with how Jack performs at the moment, here’s a quick primer: The songs played during the show are usually split between songs from Blunderbuss and choice cuts from the White Stripes catalog, with covers, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather numbers scattered througout. He’s got two bands – an all-male crew called The Buzzards and an all-female one dubbed The Peacocks – and he chooses who is going to play that night over breakfast. (They both feature a drummer, violinist, keyboardist, bassist and steel guitar player, but The Buzzards have a mandolinist and The Peacocks have a backing singer.) He doesn’t make a setlist ahead of time, so the band has to follow his cues to know what song is coming next, and for some songs, he has different arrangements for each band. Needless to say, it would be unlikely to see even two remotely similar shows if you followed him around for a month or so (which a perhaps-alarming number of people are actually doing.)
In terms of the setlist, the show was fairly in line with Jack’s recent shows, but in terms of pacing, the about 90-minute set was unlike any of his shows on the tour. After a stellar opening set by Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three, the Peacocks arrived onstage with Jack following not far behind. Opening with the White Stripes classic “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, Jack and the girls hit the ground running, tearing through Blunderbuss burners “Missing Pieces” and “Weep Themselves to Sleep” and pulling out surefire crowd-pleasers “Love Interruption” and “Hotel Yorba” early on. After that initial burst of energy, White dug a little deeper into his catalog which, although surely life-affirming for the group of fans that had camped outside the venue from that morning, slowed things down for those in attendance who weren’t raised on White Blood Cells or De Stijl, and aside from a hip-shaking rendition of “Blue Blood Blues” and a monolithic set-closing take on “The Hardest Button to Button”, Jack kept most of his heavy hitters in his pocket. The main set was unusually short (about 50 minutes), but after a ten-minute break, Jack came back renewed and knocked out an encore that lasted nearly as long as the main set. Beginning with the one-two punch of “Sixteen Saltines” and “Freedom At 21″, Jack returned with the best hit parade a fan could ask for – “Steady, As She Goes”, “We’re Going To Be Friends”, “Ball And Biscuit”, and of course, “Seven Nation Army”.
Jack has been on tour for nearly half the year at this point, and if there were any creases in his newest live incarnation to be ironed out to begin with, they’re certainly gone now, and although White is nothing short of a one-man, guitar-wielding army onstage, his showmanship is only elevated when he surrounds himself with a group of musicians as talented and exuberant as The Peacocks (or The Buzzards, for that matter). He may have been hesitant to move onto making music under a solo moniker in the wake of the White Stripes’ demise, but if anything is certain about the enigmatic guitar hero, it’s this: Jack White is at the top of his game, and it’s going to be thrilling to watch him try and top himself after this game-changing era in his career is over.
View more of Jo McCaughey’s photos from the night here.