February 8, 2015

A White weekend: Five year anniversary

Wish me a happy anniversary, it's been five years since my first White weekend. Between that and a bunch of recent shows, this be-log's been a little inundated by Jack White the last couple of days (weeks, months, whatever).  Might need to take a break and try to write about other things for a while, even I'm beginning to need a little relief from the addiction (just a very little).  But before I do that, I'm gonna reminisce over how it all began and then draw a parallel.  

So it's been five years since my epiphany but, really, it's been longer than that since I first began trying to get into Jack's music.  I heard of the White Stripes on the message board for another band I was into at the time, where people were discussing the Stripes' tour of Canada for Icky Thump.  The crazy b-shows they were playing struck my fancy and I began paying attention to conversation about the band.  But I didn't go looking for their music, not yet.  I was just fascinated by the idea of what they were doing up there in Canada and the whole nothing but drums'n'guitar, brother'n'sister thing.  It wasn't until an October night in Baltimore that I heard their music. 

Some friends and I were in B'more for the annual Fells Point Festival, one of the largest, longest-running festivals on the east coast.  For lunch, we escaped the crowds by ducking into the restaurant upstairs at Sláinte, where we ended up with an especially flirtatious waiter. Yeah, I know this seems like quite a digression, but this guy is The One Behind It All. He told us he was tending the bar downstairs that evening and that we should come back later to see him. How could three single women resist an invitation like that?  So we finished lunch and headed back out to wander the festival until evening.  

The bar was packed when we came back. And our buddy the waiter was now a very harried bartender, with people placing food orders in addition to drinks and no one from the restaurant upstairs bussing for him. There were stacks of plates and cutlery all over the floor behind the bar. He was pissed as hell about it and acting out his anger in an alarmingly maniacal manner.  He flirted up a storm with us again as he took our orders, then headed to the other end of the bar, cussing out loud and kicking plates along the way.  But we settled in and after a while he brought our drinks.  By that time, I'd been struck by the music playing in the bar and asked him who it was. He said it was the White Stripes.  Ok, I was finally hearing this band I'd heard so much about.  A few songs later, I was still digging the mix and when he waded through the debris of dishes down to our end of the bar, I asked him again "What's this song?"  Again, he said it was such-and-such song from such-and-such album by the Stripes.  Then he picked up a glass from behind the bar and, while looking me straight in the eye, threw it over his shoulder where it smashed into a pile of plates.  The dude was insane, but I was seriously excited about his choice in music. This went on and on, every single song I asked about was the White Stripes and he finally said that was all he was playing, just their six cds on rotation. I asked which of their records I should start with and he told me the later ones were best because Meg finally learned how to keep time (if I'd known more about the band at that point, I might've chastised him for dissing her. Meg was integral to the band whether she kept proper time or no.).  By that point we'd finished our drinks and realized he was keeping us hostage by not bringing our check, so I headed upstairs to find a manager and get us out of the line of flying glassware.  I hope to this day that I didn't get the guy in trouble, because I owe him a huge debt of gratitude, crazy as he was.

It was still a while before I picked up any of the band's records, though. Dunno what held me back.  And when I did finally get ahold of a copy of Icky Thump, I was held back again. The music was immediately appealing, and I was struck hard by Jack's lyrics.  Four songs on the album resonated with me especially-- 300mph Torrential Outpour Blues ("I'm getting hard on myself, sitting in my easy chair".  The simple profundity of that line was like a punch in the sternum. To this day, if you held a gun to my head and forced me to name a favorite White Stripes song, this would be it.), Little Cream Soda, Rag and Bone, and Martyr For My Love For You.  The word-play in all was so witty and clever and the sardonic angst expressed in them was something I related to strongly.  But then there was Jack's voice, so high-pitched and nasal and unpolished compared to singers like Chris Cornell and Maynard James Keenan, who I was heavily into at the time.  I just couldn't connect with it. 


For almost two years I kept coming back to Icky Thump, knowing there was something there that I should be into, but unable to make it click.  Finally my buddy Leo told me that if I was interested in Jack's music, I should check out one of his other bands that she'd seen at Lollapalooza a couple years before, the Raconteurs.  We just happened to be in a record store as she told me this, and that record store just happened to have a copy of the first Raconteurs record, Broken Boy Soldiers, on cd. So I bought it. But I didn't listen to it that day.  No, it wasn't until a week later, on a bright, clear, cold day at the end of January, when I was out driving the curvy backroads along the border of Maryland and West Virginia, that I popped that cd in and gave it a go.  Like Icky, the music struck me as appealing, but it was just that-- appealing. Not profound or astonishing.  Until Blue Veins came up.  

You know how sometimes things happen to you and you know that you will never, ever forget where you were at that moment?  I feel like I'll go to my grave still seeing that bright blue winter sky through the windshield of the car, that I'll always remember the exact spot along the road paralleling the Potomac River when Jack sang the final line of that song and the lightning bolt came down from heaven and I finally... got it.  The combination of intensity and delicacy in his voice in those final few words was exactly what I needed to hear and changed everything. 

I feel like I've learned a lot about Jack since then, and I don't mean personal, gossipy, trivia shit.  I mean about his art and his philosophy.  I've been accused of "verbosity and mind-numbing analysis of... mundane detail" but, for crying out loud, when something moves you in such a way why shouldn't you throw yourself into it deeply and express the things it makes you think and feel?  To that end, I'm going to explore a little parallel before wrapping this up.
Around this time last year, I decided to finally get into Elvis Presley's music and went down a similar rabbit-hole to the one I went down with Jack, though not quite to the same degree.  A few months later, Jack covered Elvis's Power of My Love as a b-side to the World's Fastest Record.  To my knowledge, it was the first time he'd covered an Elvis tune and I was struck by the synchronicity (or was my brain just looking for patterns?).  Since then, I and other folks have been seeing what seem to be little nods to Elvis from Jack. Some of the parallels are superficial, such as Jack's recent pompadour haircut. Others are more profound, as in the way both blurred genre lines to make their music appeal to a widely diverse audience and to introduce that audience to styles of music they might otherwise have remained ignorant of. And there's no denying that both have (had) the same intense magnetism, the ability to hold crowds large or small in the palm of their hand. But there's one way in which Jack will presumably always differ from Elvis and it's a vital difference-- Where Elvis allowed decisions to be taken out of his hands by his manager, Colonel Parker, Jack has from the very beginning exerted a strong effort to protect his music. Third Man Records, his headquarters in Nashville (record label, venue, storefront, distribution warehouse) was created for just that purpose, to allow him to maintain control of his art. He will always do what inspires him and just hope that people dig it. So far, his instincts, much like Elvis's in the very beginning, have proven pretty much infallible. It's a sad shame that Elvis didn't have Jack's confidence and strength of will. He seemed to crave love, acceptance, and fame too much, whereas Jack may want those things (it's obvious he gets intense fulfillment from connecting with an audience and his ambition is palpable) but doesn't seem to need them the way Elvis did.

I read this the other day in Greil Marcus's Mystery Train--

"...When an artist gives an all-encompassing Yes to his audience (and Elvis's Yes implicitly includes everyone, not just those who say Yes to him), there is nothing more he can tell his audience, nothing he can really do for them, except maybe throw them a kiss.

Only the man who says No is free, Melville once wrote. We don't expect such a stance in popular culture, and those who do might best be advised to take their trade somewhere else. But the refusal that lurks on the margins of the affirmation of American popular culture... is what gives the Yes of our culture its vitality and its kick. Elvis's Yes is the grandest of all, his presentation of mastery the grandest fantasy of freedom, but it is finally a counterfeit of freedom: it takes place in a world that for all its openness (Everybody Welcome!) is aesthetically closed, where nothing is left to be mastered, where there is only more to accept. For all its irresistible excitement and enthusiasm, this freedom is complacent, and so the music that it produces is empty of real emotion-- there is nothing this freedom could be for, nothing to be won or lost.

For all the little signs over the past year that Jack seems to be channeling Elvis, the thing that will always set them apart (or that I assume and hope will always set them apart) is that Jack will never give that all-encompassing Yes to his audience. He constantly walks the line between Yes and a hint, or threat, if you will, of No. The "are you with me or against me?" question at so many shows on the Lazaretto tour, voiced so vehemently recently in Austin and New York, the immediate switch from semi-scripted arena shows in New York and Nashville to spontaneity in Ohio, and to lecture/complaint and willfulness at shows after that in the southwest, are indications that the No will always lurk on the edge of Jack's art. He will never succumb to the complacence that Elvis did. He can pay all the homage in the world with his cover of Power of My Love, his pompadour, playing the stages Elvis played... Hell, tell me that hair, shiny jacket and open collar, and even some of the motions of his recent performance on The Tonight Show don't call to mind the King's early days--

Update 3/14/2017: Thanks for taking this down, NBC. Y'all reading this are just going to have to take my word for it.
He could even hit the stage in a rhinestone-emblazoned white jumpsuit, but he will never become what Elvis became. He will always make demands of his audience. One of the best reviews I've read of one of his shows included this line that's become my signature at the two Jack-related message boards--  
"And the message is clear: if we want Jack White as our hero, he will entertain, but not pander. We have to accept all his flaws, whims, caprices and manias as a critical, sometimes uncomfortable, part of the contract."

In other words, he will sometimes tell us No. And, as Greil Marcus put it, that is exactly what gives his Yes such vitality and kick.  After five years of addiction to that vitality and kick, I still crave it as much as I did from the very beginning.  And, heaven help me, I hope to still be verbosely expressing mind-numbing analysis of every mundane detail of Jack's art five years from now.  

And is it just my brain looking for patterns again when I notice that this post about my 5 year anniversary is the 55th in which I've written about Jack?  It ain't 3s, but hmmmm... 

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 12: The addiction comes full circle

A couple of songs into the show in Columbus, Ohio and all I thought I would have to say about it was that there are too goddamned many tall people in this world. It was like Radio City on the Blunderbuss tour all over again, unable to become immersed in what was happening because I had to crane my neck and jockey around just to catch glimpses of it. But then I noticed that there were several empty seats in the row behind me, so I climbed over the chairs and found myself raised ever so slightly above the sea of heads with a fairly good view of center stage, except for every time the massively tall bald guy two rows down leaned over to talk to his friends around him and make out with his girlfriend, which went on through the entire. damned. show. But at least I was able to dance around with a lot more space than I normally have on the rail. 

But it just wasn't the same. I was close enough to see when Jack smiled, which, like the last few nights, was pretty damned frequently, but not close enough to take in the full impact of his energy. I began mentally kicking myself in the ass over delaying my flight so I could sleep after the Madison Square Garden show the night before and not stand all day in the cold again. I was so exhausted after the Garden show. The cold had taken so much out of me, both the weather and the sickness I'd been fighting all week. But I knew what I was missing down there at the front, I knew the adrenalin rush of being right there in the maelstrom would have erased all the shivering and aching for at least a couple of hours. But could my body physically have done it without collapse, could I have gone from Austin to Nashville to New York to yet another day of standing in freezing temperatures with basically zero hours of sleep? I don't know. I'll never know. I'm not even sure I would have arrived in Ohio early enough to have been able to get on the rail at all, though a couple of friends who arrived later than I would have did make it despite the number of people in line ahead of them. So I can either continue kicking myself periodically over giving up the chance to be up close and connected at a show at which Jack was talkative and playful and more spontaneous than he'd been in Nashville or New York, or I can be stoic about it and mature (heaven forbid) enough to accept that my body needed a break. Can the junkie handle that? Does she have a choice?

Most of the highlights of the show were early on-- When Jack mentioned leading into Hotel Yorba that members of the Southwest Syndicate were in attendance at the show, but nobody in the audience would know who they are, I had to yell out "I know who they are!" because it brought back a particular moment downstairs in the Grand Ballroom after the Masonic Temple show. And then there was Jack calling out his techs Josh and Abraham to the front of the stage so that he could give them very specific directions to bring him a drink in "a clear glass so everyone can see it" and in that glass he wanted Coca-Cola, Red Bull, something I couldn't hear, Kahlua, pineapple juice, vodka, a few more things I couldn't hear and/or just don't remember and, finally, tap water, but it had to be Ohio tap water. This little episode reminded me of the hunt for a stool that was the proper representation of the form in Miami. And then, as a lead in to You Know That I Know, Jack told the story behind how he came to write that song with Hank Williams, which included a fairly hilarious Bob Dylan impersonation and the fact that Jack apparently didn't know he'd been weeding poison ivy from around his irises--

The re-cap of the ingredients in the drink here doesn't include a couple in his original request, like the pineapple juice.
I'd love to hear from the first person who tests this concoction.

Then there was the Cannon/Sixteen Saltines/Pipeline/Cannon medley that had me jumping like a fool and screaming as much as laryngitis would allow. Moments of spontaneity that made me kick myself a little more for not seeing how far I could push my physical limits.

The pace slowed down a bit just after the beginning of the encore as Jack told another story at the beginning of Three Women, and I found myself slowing along with it. Detachment began to set in. When I saw Jack motioning for Abraham to bring out the Kay, I actually felt relief. But he tricked us like he did at Nashville, he wasn't ready to end things after all and instead treated us to a snippet of Let's Build a Home and most of Suzy Lee. 

Then he handed the Kay back and launched into a handful more songs, including a one-two punch of Black Bat Licorice into Broken Boy Soldier that should have had me bouncing off the ceiling. I felt some of my usual excitement over those two songs, but it was accompanied by that feeling of disconnection from being so far away and having assholes block my view. When he motioned for the Kay again, finally, I was glad for it. It was time. I never thought I'd ever catch myself thinking that.

And by the time I arrived back home in D.C. the next morning, I was wallowing deeply, wondering where the hell the junkie had been when I needed her, when I needed to be irrational and driven. This was a show that would have left me euphoric if I'd been in my usual place up front, but that instead left me feeling a little hollow despite how hard I tried to get into it up in the seats. It certainly wasn't Jack's fault, what he was doing on that stage was magical and I knew it. I can only blame myself for a decision that's left me feeling intense remorse, even though I know full well there was no guarantee I would have made it to the rail even if I hadn't made that decision. 

And now, like after Miami, the roller-coaster ride is at an end for the foreseeable future. My friends Sam, Helen, and Angelina went on to the last three shows of this leg and I spent those few days fighting to not return to the bitter, jealous state I began this ride in back early last summer.  Upon reading Helen's one-sentence review of the show in Oklahoma, and again after the next night in Albuquerque when she mentioned that he played Never Far Away, a song I love not only because it's beautiful but because it so perfectly encapsulates the story of one of my favorite books, my eyes filled up with tears and I felt a physical pang in my heart and before you start rolling your eyes at me let me assure you that I fully realize just how ridiculous that sounds.  I'm not so far gone that I can't stand back and see that all of this comes across like an over-aged teeny-bopper whining about first-world fan-girl problems. But knowing that doesn't help to control the feelings.  When I hear about the shows I've missed, the visceral reaction erupts before conscious, rational thought even has a chance to form. It's so easy to jump to the conclusion that what you've missed was better, more exciting and more surprising, than the experiences that you've had. And then the battle begins between the fan-girl junkie and my more rational, adult side. Those battles ain't pretty, lemme tell you, 'cause the junkie fights dirty and has ammunition in the form of photos and videos and show reviews aaaaalll over the internet. And I know I'm not alone in going through these withdrawal symptoms. I've had many conversations over the course of this tour with the friends I went to all these shows with and they've experienced it, too.  One of them was warned by her mother that it seemed her "decision making was weak or compromised".  Another has brought her credit cards to the limit to get to shows.  It truly is an addiction. But unlike drugs or alcohol that can be explained by a physical dependency, this is more like gambling or some other craving that's based in the most illogical reaches of the brain. Sometimes I feel that if I could just figure out what the hell it is about this man and his music that has this affect on all of us, then I'd be able to figure out some way to build up an immunity to it. But the things that move us emotionally just aren't based on rational causes and can't always be understood. So sometimes we suffer for them in between the moments of bliss.

Jack's touring South America in March, then playing the Coachella festival and a show in Honolulu in April, then that might very well be it for the Lazaretto tour.  Fucking shame my ride had to end with a whimper instead of delighted, giddy screaming. Moral of the story, kiddies-- Sometimes you really should rouse up your inner junkie and let it push you, even if it might  compromise your health or otherwise screw things up. The high can be so worth it, and you have to try to make it happen.

Come back soon, Jack. The junkie and I both need more of that good aural first aid.

Here's where it all began.

February 7, 2015

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 11: Aural first aid at Madison Square Garden. That's A-U-R-A-L

Yes!! I found the one cab driver in all of Manhattan who doesn't know how to get to LaGuardia! And who asked me not which airline I was flying out from, but which terminal, as if I'd know. And who then, after not being sure he'd taken the correct exit to the airport, told me when we finally got there that he needed me to read the signs to figure out which terminal American was at because "we need to work together, help each other". And who turned to me when we pulled up at the terminal and said "We went through a toll. Did you pay it?" And who then said, after I'd swiped my credit card, "You added the toll, but there's no tip on this".  

Uh huh. I'd woken up with no voice, not even a hoarse one, so arguing with the cabbie on the way to the airport was great fun. Why did I have no voice, do you ask? Well, because I was sick. Why was I sick? Well, because I'd spent so many days this week outside in the cold and wind (and some brief snow flurries), wrapped up in blankets on a sidewalk waiting to get on the rail at Jack White shows, to get my inner junkie her fix. Last night's was an arguably historic show at the historic Madison Square Garden and it went a long way towards eradicating all memory of those hours of shivering. If only I could eradicate the coughing and sniffling.

Jack's had a tempestuous relationship with New York. On the Blunderbuss tour alone, he played five tremendous shows, but the one most people talk about is the one that he pulled the curtain on after playing only an hour. I'm not going to go into detail about that show because you can still find all the articles about it on the internet, though I will say that I'm convinced I will go down in history as the only person who was glad he cut it short because I was as pissed off at the crowd that night as he was. So, after hearing that there would be no shows in NY this tour, presumably because he was still pissed, the announcement of the MSG show was a huge surprise. If he had to go to NY, he was apparently going to cram as many people into one show as he could, and no damned seated theater would do. As he told Jordan Klepper, Madison Square Garden has an energy that seated theaters in NY just don't have, no matter how renowned.

For this show, Jack swung to the opposite gamut from Nashville two days ago, where he'd celebrated the music of that town with openers William Tyler and Loretta Lynn.  To celebrate playing at the Garden in one of the hometowns of hip-hop, he enlisted rappers Run the Jewels to open.  Not my cup of tea, though I will give them (and featured guest Zack de la Rocha, that was exciting) credit for working their asses off to get the crowd fired up.  

When it was his turn, Jack exploded like gangbusters with Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground. Within a few songs, I realized with a bit of surprise that he was repeating the same exact set he'd played in Nashville.  The energy was off the charts, though, so at the time it was just something curious and I didn't give a damn. And from the moment that he dropped Broken Boy Soldier (one of my favorite live songs) into the middle of Cannon, he began to break things up a little bit and I became so caught up that I stopped thinking about comparisons.  

Except that it continued to remain very similar, though wildly different at the same time. After an insane Ball'n'Biscuit that almost led to toppled monitors at one end of the stage, the curtains swung shut for the encore break.  

Then once again, just like at Nashville, Jack had a surprise in store for us.  After blowing my little mind by beginning the second set with That Black Bat Licorice (my other favorite live song), he suddenly introduced a special guest-- But instead of someone iconic like Loretta joining him on stage, out came former Tribe Called Quest member, Q-Tip, rapping out the tongue-twisting lyrics of Black Bat alongside Jack.  Jack was obviously on cloud 9 as he, his band, and Q-Tip then launched into a cover of Excursions, bouncing around with a huge grin on his face. I didn't know the song, but it was fascinating to watch how he and the band handled a hip-hop tune being sung by the original artist, to notice when and how Jack chose to add flourishes of guitar.  


Another angle just for the hell of it--

I couldn't see what was happening behind me, but from watching Jack it was obvious that the huge crowd filling the sold out Garden was giving him exactly what he wanted and needed, what he'd not felt he'd gotten at Radio City two and a half years before.  He kept up a hyperventilation-inducing pace for the next few songs, leading directly into Sixteen Saltines, Astro, and Steady As She Goes.  God or whatever's above, bless him for finally giving us a break in the form of Would You Fight For My Love. 


A couple songs later, the Kay came out and it was time to see how New York would perform on Seven Nation Army. If anyone were to need an indication of how heady a night this was for Jack, what happened during this song is the example I'd give them.  He chose a spot 8 or so people down the rail from me to climb over into the crowd.  It crossed the junkie's mind for one brief moment to try to squeeze through the crowd to get closer, but it was over too quickly, I wouldn't have made it in time. And as it was, I was in a great vantage spot to see him hovering in the air over the fans below him, gazing back toward the far reaches of the arena. For those few seconds that he was on top of the crowd, Jack White was on top of the world.

Photo courtesy of Babette Ross and permission to use is very much appreciated.
She must've been only a couple rows behind where I was standing.
Photo by David James Swanson
  Go to about 2:40 for that moment--

Another angle, with his launch into the crowd at 4:30 in--

I can only begin to imagine the incredible high he must have felt, the combination of adrenalin, adoration, and pure energy.  It surely must've been at least as intense a high for him as he gives to us, and I was thrilled for him, and thrilled for myself that I was able to be a part of it.  Cold sidewalk?  For a show as exhilarating as this one, I'd spend every night on a cold sidewalk. 

During Top Yourself, just before the encore break, Jack had asked the crowd how we were doing and let us know that if we needed, he had an aural first aid kit up on stage, spelling out A-U-R-A-L, and saying he hoped it made us feel good when we needed it. Needless to say, I already knew about it, though I consider it a drug rather than first aid and it was why the junkie and I were there in the first place. It has definitely cured many of my ills on many occasions (except for the coughing and sniffling on the way to the airport the next morning, of course).

Could this be the rare show at which Jack might admit he was having... fun?  Watch some of those videos up there and tell me that's not someone having a ball, having a blast, having the time of their life. Jack may have a different definition of the word "fun" than the average person, but there was too much exuberance on that stage, too much joy, for that word to not spring to mind.  

Photo by David James Swanson

And, thanks to the magic of the interwebs, you can listen to the entire Madison Square Garden show here.  The junkie was off to Ohio after that lovely cab ride to the airport.  Here's where she's been.

February 3, 2015

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 10: The Jack'n'Loretta Love Fest

Photo by David James Swanson
 It's been a while since I've anticipated a Jack White show as much as I anticipated this one. Things have changed, the Lazaretto tour hasn't had the innocent excitement of 2012's Blunderbuss tour, there's been so much angst involved that the old butterflies in the stomach feeling hasn't overtaken me leading up to shows the way it did then. That doesn't mean I haven't had the same excitement during shows, no sirree Bob, it's just made the in-between-show experience different. But this one... Once Loretta Lynn was announced as the opening act, I knew this one was going to be special and I had moments during the days leading up to it when I wanted to just clap my hands and bounce around like a little kid. 

Jack and Loretta's love affair began back in 2003. The story goes that he and Meg used to listen to her music in their van, driving around from gig to gig in the early days of the White Stripes. They dedicated their third album, White Blood Cells, to her. She responded by inviting them over for dinner and then opening for one of their shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom. When she mentioned working on a new album, Jack asked if she'd consider letting him produce it. The result was Van Lear Rose, which won two of the five Grammys it was nominated for, helped introduce Loretta to a younger generation, and  showed anyone paying attention that Jack had as formidable instincts as a producer as he does as a musician.

 And that love and respect was still on display years later when Jack participated in a Grammy event honoring Loretta--

So here they were, a whole decade later, about to share a stage again.  It was gonna be a love fest and there was no way I was gonna miss it.  So determined was I that, despite a very generous new friend inviting me to be her plus-one when she won the early entry lottery in the Third Man Records Vault, I spent more hours in line for this show than for any other I've been to yet and was damned glad I did.

Loretta's opening set was preceded by a local Nashville guitar player named William Tyler, who's as good an example as any other contemporary young musician of the variety of directions the music in Nashville is going these days.  His set was totally unexpected and refreshing, just him and a guitar and a small pedal board. No singing, no words. Just really fascinating sounds.  I don't know how it played out towards the back of the arena, but from the front it was mesmerizing. A little taste from an in-store performance at Grimey's Records--

And then it was Loretta's turn. Unfortunately, there's only one video of her set on YouTube. But if you know anything about her, you can imagine the rest for yourself. Both the woman and her songs just as straightforward as can be.  She must've had a cold or something because she kept wiping her nose with a tissue, finally mentioning that she was sorry but her nose was "running like a freight train".  Totally disarming and charming.  And she sounded wonderful.  Her 45 minute set was over way too quickly, but I think everyone in the audience knew we were going to see her again that night.

Jack hit the stage with a triple punch of Dead Leaves, High Ball Stepper, and Lazaretto. He was immediately full of smiles. Over the crowd response?  Over having Loretta in the house?  All of the above?  A couple songs in, he stood briefly at the mic and just laughed out loud to himself.  At another point early on, he walked to the front of the stage near us and began to do the posturing thing I talked about from the Austin show, but he couldn't hold the deadpan stare, the corner of his mouth came up into a smirk that made it apparent he just couldn't contain his glee.  It was fucking adorable and highly infectious.

After a nicely balanced, high energy first set, the blue curtains were pulled shut to give us a break, though no one took a rest, we cheered our asses off for him to come back out even though we knew full well he was going to.  We knew that not only was he going to come back, but that Loretta was gonna come out at some point, too.  But I don't know anyone who was at this show who was prepared for the surprise we got when Jack's tour manager Lalo Medina stepped through the curtains again, just like he does at the beginning of every show to exhort the crowd to keep their phones in their (damn) pockets.  So what the heck was up now?  

Rather than a reprimand or chastisement, he instead announced that we should all "give it up for THE RACONTEURS!!!"  Talk about freaking the fuck out.  That entire crowd roared as the blue curtains swept open to reveal the stage bathed in a golden glow instead of the usual cool blue, with Brendon Benson to Jack's left and Little Jack Lawrence plucking bass next to Daru Jones on the drums (Patrick Keeler presumably wasn't available for drum duty because he's touring with the Afghan Whigs).  For two full songs, we were stunned and ecstatic at the same time. 

And then came the second surprise, the one that really wasn't a surprise at all because anyone who knows anything would have been anticipating it for weeks-- Loretta came out along with Brendon, Little Jack, and Jack's full band for a duet on Portland, Oregon and Whispering Seas, which was the b-side to her first single and a song she apparently never performed live. It's a song that Jack once told John Peel he loved, so for her to perform it with him had to have been a dream come true for him.  Leading into it, he told a story about calling her up to ask if she'd perform with him, impersonating her disguising her voice on the phone and how she called him "baby". 

It was so very sweet and funny to watch them together, her seemingly hesitant to get close to him for fear he'd knock her over with his bouncing about, and him wanting her close to sing with him and so he could hug her and kiss her forehead. Then Jack praised her as the most important female song-writer of the 20th century and Brendon Benson held out his arm to squire her off the stage.  Before she was even completely off, Jack maniacally launched into Black Bat Licorice and my brain exploded completely (and, boy, do I wish there was video of that).  

After Sixteen Saltines and then Ball'n'Biscuit, he surprised me yet again by having his tech bring out the Kay, which is normally the signal for Seven Nation Army and the end of the night.  It seemed so unusual for him to be done right after B'n'B, that song's usually used mid-set to amp the crowd up. But no, he was just teasing and gave us a heavy cover of Stones In My Passway, then handed the Kay back for two more songs before bringing it out again to finally, triumphantly, call it a night.

 This was the only show that's come close to being anywhere near as powerful for me as the one at the Masonic Temple in Detroit last summer.  And I'm not referring to what happened to me at that show, I'm talking about the whole thing, the energy the Detroit crowd fed to him, the joyfully ferocious way he responded to that energy, the surprises that night...  This one may even have surpassed that show, as I couldn't help but be empathetically proud for him when he announced at the end that the night had been one of his best moments yet in Nashville. As my pal Helen put it, "...by far my most lasting impression will be that everybody deserves, at least once, to look as happy as Jack looked tonight. It was one of the most touching things I've ever seen."   I'm still smiling over it now, almost a week later. 

Up next, Madison Square Garden and more surprises.  But here's where we've been so far.