Jack White, one half of the recently retired punk blue duo The White Stripes and a member of such rock bands as The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, has always had a flair for posturing, a kind of Bowie-esque obfuscation that can have effect of adding an unnecessary layer of artifice between him and his audience.
The strange habit has continued since the Stripes called it quits last year as White, after 15 years, finally strikes out on a solo career. Ahead of the release next month of his solo debut Blunderbuss, White appeared on "Saturday Night Live" earlier this month performing the new single "Love Interruption" with an all-female band, before coming back out to perform a follow-up, "Sixteen Saltines," with an entirely different, dark suited, all-male quintet.
When White kicked off his first solo tour last weekend in Chattanooga, he took the stage with the former, but by the time he arrived in Memphis Tuesday for his sold-out show before 1,000 people at the New Daisy Theater it was with the latter.
The few reviews that have trickled out so far suggest both bands are propelled by powerful, kinetic drummers and feature some new instrumentation -- pedal steel, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica --that seems the direct result of the Detroit-born White's long tenure in Nashville.
Early in the compact, no-dawdling 80-minute set, these touches seemed -- like the dark suits worn not just by White and much of the band but also the sound and light guys and the stage hands -- more for show as the instruments were drowned out in the feedback-fueled cacophony of the Stripes "Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground" and the new Blunderbuss single "Sixteen Saltines."
But soon the expanded sonic palette began to take hold as the funky Dead Weather cut "I Cut Like A Buffalo" became a gently swinging country rocker, a vibe that continued on "You Know That I Know," White's contribution to the recent The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project.
The night was filled with such unexpected gems as White spread the set list across all stages of his career. The Stripes "Hotel Yorba" and The Raconteurs sinister "Top Yourself" freely mingled with The Dead Weather songs and more obscure numbers like "Two Against One" from Rome, his 2010 spaghetti western inspired collaboration with Danger Mouse.
Throughout, White's new interpretations of his back catalog seemed freer and looser than anything else he's done, with an exciting sense of discovery as the performer tried to work out his competing instincts to explore his roots in country and blues with his need to rock out. The tension was laid stark in his closing duo of the Stripes' thumping "Seven Nation Army" followed by a benedictory cover of folk singer Lead Belly's "Goodnight Irene."
Watching him explore these two sides, sometimes within the same song, live was a tantalizing, if brief, peak behind the White faade.
Opening for White was local folkie Holly Cole and her band the Memphis Dawls, newly expanded with the addition of a drummer and trumpet player. The audience seemed genuinely thrilled with Cole and bandmates Jana Misener and Krista Wroten Combest's three-part harmonies, and White was apparently impressed, too. The group was asked to open for again Thursday in Tulsa, Okla.