NEW YORK — One of Jack White’s muses was on hand Saturday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Wearing a wedding dress, no less, and offering gushing praise of her young admirer.
“This is a very special night for me because I’m working with my idols, the White Stripes.”
The crowd’s eyes widened as Loretta Lynn, the 69-year-old Country Music Hall of Famer and subject of the Oscar-winning 1980 film “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” made this statement during her warm-up set for the Detroit blues-rock duo. Concerns that Jack White’s squealing guitar and Robert Plant wail would scare Loretta if she were in earshot melted away.
“That Jack White, he’s something else,” Lynn added with a shake of her head. “I’ll tell you girls, you can’t even get near him.” She then demanded that the Stripes’ bodyguard make an appearance, which he did, waving confusedly from behind the security barricade below the stage as the singer held his hand from above.
Jack, who had introduced Lynn (“Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest female singer/songwriter of the 20th century … Ms. Loretta Lynn!”) ambled back out onstage in his white-fringed red suit to perform two songs with her, “Fist City” and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” one of many duets she’s recorded with Conway Twitty.
“Miss Loretta, you are the most gorgeous thing to ever come out of the South,” Jack said, battling back the limp, greased hair that hung in his eyes.
The two exchanged a few more flirtatious lines about how they were looking for a new woman/man before Lynn closed things out with “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” which got the city hipsters riled up, most likely because it was the only song from her catalog that many of them knew.
The White Stripes returned after the crowd was treated to one too many Betty Boop and Bimbo cartoons from the 1930s; Meg White was led out with much ceremony by the pinstripe-suit-wearing bodyguard.
Prone to indie-rock-boy preciousness onstage in the past, Jack emanated a slinky confidence as he shimmied his hips for opener “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” the first cut from the album the Stripes dedicated to Loretta, White Blood Cells. He worked his instrument like a classic rock guitar god throughout the night, ripping out Jimmy Page-worthy solos and, during “Death Letter,” dropping to his knees with his head thrown back in front of Meg’s drum kit. The primal ferocity of his voice and guitar playing didn’t go unnoticed: Up in the VIP balcony, filmmaker/actor Jim Jarmusch furiously chomped his gum and nodded his head in time with the tune, and one female fan let out the kind of scream normally heard only at an Aaron Carter concert.
Meg, in a red minidress, demurely took center stage to sing “In the Cold, Cold, Night.” While barely able to stay on key, at the end the crowd, which had been clapping along for much of the number, showered her with huge applause and scattered calls of “I love you, Meg!”
And that’s the thing with Meg — whom Jack still introduces as “my big sister” — she is a beloved figure, which makes up for what can be spotty drumming/singing. It just wouldn’t be the same at a White Stripes concert without Jack facing Meg directly as he sings, shooting her signals with his body and facial expressions about when to pick up the beat or stay with him or get back on track, with her smiling sweetly through it all.
The band took a pass on playing “Fell in Love With a Girl,” its breakthrough single from last year. The Stripes did, however, perform their current radio hit, “Seven Nation Army,” as well as an organ-drenched “I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart,” “The Hardest Button to Button” and “Ball and Biscuit,” one of the more traditional blues numbers of the night, all from their new LP, Elephant.
Loretta Lynn came back out for the encore, white floor-length gown discarded in favor of — what else — something red (a long crimson blazer with sequined flowers, to be precise). She and Jack traded verses for her hit “Rated X,” and then, right at the one-hour mark, the set was over. Most of the fans seemed reluctant to exit the theater, perhaps hoping for one more lick from Jack, or one more story from Loretta about that time she had Jack and Meg over to her house and made them “homemade chicken and dumplings, and homemade bread” — the best bread, according to Loretta, that Jack White ever had.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.