Jack White: Best Live Act of 2012

Music Features Jack White
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It only took a round of Fireball Whiskey—and a fierce set from Jack White—to get Bill Murray to dance on the bar.

At what may have been the craziest show at last year’s SXSW, Jack White kicked off his solo-in-name-only tour to a star-studded audience, as the overflowing crowd packed outside the windows of Austin’s Stage on Sixth. But those not able to crash the 900-person venue could catch White at one of the other 85 shows he played in 2012 in support of Blunderbuss, from Alabama’s Hangout Festival to Fuji Rock in Japan.

Leaving behind the Stripes’ red-and-white color scheme, White embraced the blues with two different bands, split by gender. Up first were the all-female Peacocks, most notably vocalist Ruby Amanfu of Nashville’s Sam & Ruby. The first set included four tracks off the new record, including lead single “Love Interruption,” but also three White Stripes songs, a cover of Hank William’s “You Know That I Know,” and “Two Against One”—his collaboration with Danger Mouse and Italian film composer Daniele Luppi.

After an intermission filled with celebrity spotting (fellow performer John C. Reilly, The Shins’ James Mercer, SNL’s Jason Sudekis and Olivia Munn, to name a few), White returned to the stage with the boys—The Buzzards—for a set dominated by tracks from his former bands—The White Stripes, Dead Weather and The Raconteurs.

It’s been a long time since White first proved he had the guitar muscle to carry a song with no help apart from some sparse drumming. But the fuller band—including (gulp!) bass—takes nothing away from those riffs. Nashville has given a him an edge that’s just a little bit country, and the pedal steel sings a nice counter melody. This year’s tour was a way to see all the best facets of a man who knows how to collaborate.

After “Steady as She Goes” and “Hypocritical Kiss,” I timed my trip back to the bar in time to join Murray in a round before helping lift him onto the bar for “Ball and a Biscuit.” The night ended with “Seven Nation Army” and what’s become a festival-closing staple, Lead Belly’s “Good Night, Irene.”

White is music’s answer to the five-tool player. He can write songs and play guitar as well as anyone. He’s a gifted vocalist and bandleader. But above all, he’s a showman, blending rock ’n’ roll, blues and country into the best traveling show this year.