John C. Reilly, Jack White, Conan O'Brien and Lillie Mae Rische on stage at the Mayan (David James Swanson)
“This is the third show we’ve played today, and I think it’s going to be the best one,” proclaimed Jack White to a sold-out crowd at the Mayan Wednesday night. “You know how I feel about the number three.”
Indeed, the numeral has featured prominently in the work– and even the stage name (“Jack White III”) – of the Nashville (via Detroit) singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and founder of Third Man Records (There’s that number again.). Having recorded a breakfast show with KROQ’s Kevin and Bean and an appearance on “Conan” earlier in the day, White showed no signs of fatigue as he tore through a two-hour set at the Downtown venue. This was night two of a three-night stand in Los Angeles, beginning at the Fonda Tuesday and ending at Fox Theatre Pomona Thursday, in celebration of the June 10 release of his latest solo effort, Lazaretto.
On “Conan,” White spoke about the album and his request that audiences at his live shows refrain from using their phones/tablets to record video or take photos. At around 9:30 p.m., one of the tour’s dapperly dressed roadies came on stage to reiterate that no photos/video should be taken, that their tour photographer would be posting images from this show on jackwhiteiii.com for all to download and that instead, everyone should focus on being in the moment.
What a musical moment it was. Opening with “Icky Thump,” the title track from the final album recorded by White’s breakout duo, the White Stripes, the stage was ignited by a frenetic energy that coursed through the crowd until the end of the show. As his backing band – drummer Daru Jones, bassist Dominic Davis, pedal-steel guitarist/fiddler Fats Kaplin, pianist/keyboardist Ikey Owens and fiddle player/vocalist Lillie Mae Rische – settled into their places in a semi-circle around White, they broke into “Missing Pieces,” the lead song from his debut solo album, 2012’s Blunderbuss. All of the band members were also musicians on the Blunderbuss tour as part of the male Buzzards or, in Rische’s case, the female Peacocks.
While the set primarily consisted of tunes from White’s two solo albums, including Lazaretto‘s instrumental “High Ball Stepper,” “Temporary Ground,” “Three Women” and the gorgeous “Alone in My Home,” as well as “Love Interruption,” “Hypocritical Kiss” and “Weep Themselves to Sleep” off Blunderbuss, the numbers that really got the crowd headbanging and jumping up and down throughout the night were those of his other bands. The Raconteurs’ “Top Yourself” featured epic guitarwork from White, and Long Beach’s Owens – who was once a member of the Mars Volta – absolutely killed it on the keys. The audience knew every word of the first verse to the Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like a Buffalo.”
Songs from the White Stripes’ catalog garnered the most passionate responses from the crowd, beginning with a beautiful version of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “Hello Operator” and a feverish sing-along to “Hotel Yorba.” White teased longtime fans with a bit of “I’m Bound to Pack It Up” from the Stripes’ sophomore album, 2000’s De Stijl, that led into “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket.” The band closed the set with a powerhouse performance of “I’m Slowly Turning Into You.”
After a short break, the musicians returned to the stage to dive right into the first single and title track from Lazaretto, and the crowd showed the love they already have for the song by matching White word for word with the Spanish lines, “Yo trabajo duro como en madera y yeso,” without missing a beat. Perhaps the audience’s passion spurred White into the great mood he was in for the rest of the night. He joked about the architectural beauty of the venue being left by the actual Mayans, inserted lyrics from Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut” into “Sixteen Saltines” and even slid off the stage to play a bit of “Seven Nation Army” at the front of the pit.
While White’s cover of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” is often included in his setlists, this show’s version was made special by two guests who joined him on stage. John C. Reilly and Conan O’Brien walked into the spotlight armed with guitars to help White close out the evening. The audience hooted and hollered its glee and showered the entire ensemble with applause as a final bow was taken.
White loves to surprise show-goers not only special guests like these, but also with a different set every night they come to see him play. While he foregoes super elaborate stage design at his concerts, it is never missed. Witnessing him conduct a gifted band of musicians through a set that favors improvisation and quality musical artistry over forced theatrics in this day and age is always refreshing and absolutely breathtaking.