"OK-do-you-feel-good-OK-now!" Jack White said as he walked on stage, addressing the Merriweather Post Pavilion crowd on Sunday. Everybody freaked out. While almost half of the setlist consisted of White Stripes jams, as well as a few Raconteurs and Dead Weather songs, White and his five-piece band delivered something that popped and even twang-a-langed. Maybe White was vibing off his new, de-mopped hairdo, but the energy between musicians was intense and dynamic. Consisting of guitar, mandolin, drum kit, keys, bass, steel guitar, theremin (!), and fiddles, the band wove a blanket of sound from the expected bluesy garage rock and more than a sprinkling of Nashville honky-tonk.
Nashville's hand upon White's signature sound would have been unexpected 10 years ago, but the five-time Grammy winner is boldly coalescing a traditional Nashville sensibility. If the presence of a steel guitar and two fiddles isn't convincing enough, the zeal of White's backup vocalist/fiddle/mandolin player may do the trick.
"Lillie Mae from God knows where!" as White introduced her, is Lillie Mae Rische, whose voice accompanies White’s on most tracks on new album "Lazaretto" including 'Alone in My Home,' with its June-and-Johnny harmonies and clatter of high-pitched keys. Rische grew up touring in a family band, moving from Illinois to Nashville with her two sisters and brother to perform as country act Jypsi in 2007. Rische hones a Celtic Women-esque trait: fiddling while step-dancing/hopping lightheartedly around the stage in a pair of cowboy boots, and piercing through the LED monitors with a colossal pair of brown eyes. She looked scared shitless when the curtains opened, but entered a state of complete musical hypnosis by the finale. Her voice is another matter altogether. Rische's soulful alto has often been compared to Emmylou Harris and other iconic country voices.
Rische remained stage right of White throughout the show. They balanced each other, White's trademark screech above Rische's beautiful, low moan. When White was pouting, Rische was grinning. She bounced in a lacey white dress; he strutted in a black suit. He leaned into her mike, and together they sang, "I love you/ Honey, why don't you love me?"
White has the presence of a man who's been bucked into a straight jacket and suddenly released. As "Blunderbuss" melted into "Three Women," White stumbled across the stage in his signature style, as if he couldn't control his body or his feet. Of course, this itself was completely controlled. His white leather shoes shuffled back and forth as he sang, "I got three women/ Red, blond, and brunette."
After a few White Stripes songs, the curtains closed what seemed far too early. In no time, the crowd was violently humming 'Seven Nation Army.' Having shed his black suit coat and sweat-stained blue oxford in favor of a black tee, White resurfaced for a six-song encore, including 'Seven Nation Army' and the crowd-pleasing sing-along 'We Are Going to be Friends,' which, accompanied by Rische's voice, sounded a little more country than rock 'n' roll.
Nashville welcomed White in 2009 and he has undeniably built a place for himself. He's signed a great deal of young Nashville rockers to his label Third Man Records and worked with Nashville legends such as Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson—one could argue that White has made himself indispensable. Sunday's spectacle exhibited a sincere attempt on White's part to do something that isn't The White Stripes, or Dead Weather, or even "Blunderbuss." This may be the ultimate sign to White's fans that Music City has infiltrated, but not quite stolen, his heart and soul. I hear Nashville tends to do that.