NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Jack White manhandled his guitar like some kind of evangelical beast, ranting red-faced about drinkin', immigration and prostitution.
But he wasn't addressing the crowd with the lyrics to "Icky Thump," the new single and title track from the White Stripes' forthcoming album. The song's jagged riffs and verbal bluster were aimed at his bandmate, Meg.
Throughout much of the White Stripes' 80-minute set here on Friday night, Jack faced Meg like he was in the midst of an interrogation. Undaunted, she returned his focus with equal intensity, thrashing away with her head cocked to the right as if to say, "Is that all you got?"
Things can get a little nasty when brother and sister play together.
The duo — who aren't really siblings despite a career of claiming so — used the impromptu show at the Cannery Ballroom to preview material from their sixth full-length, which is due June 19 (see "White Stripes Reveal Icky New Album Details"). The gig, which reportedly sold out in six minutes after being announced on their Web site, was their first U.S. show since December 2005, and their first in Nashville in nearly six years.
"How's my new hometown doin'?" Jack asked. The singer moved to Nashville last year from Detroit, after spending time in Music City in 2004 to work on Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose. The members of White's other band, the Raconteurs, some of whom were in attendance Friday, also reside in this country-music mecca. Perhaps in tribute, the pair opened with a cover of Hank Williams' "Tennessee Border," which drew endearing applause.
The show was further proof of what the album's first single suggests: That the White Stripes are emerging from their hiatus heavier and louder than ever. Clad in a tight black T-shirt, Jack is sporting a buffed-up physique that seems designed to make that point, as though his biceps are bulging from tossing 10-ton riffs around all day. Unlike the eclecticism found on their last album, 2005's Get Behind Me Satan, which dabbled with marimba, funk and country, what the Stripes showed of Icky Thump underscored the "thump," with sludgy guitar and wicked riff-rock explosions that peak with soaring flourishes. "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" would transform into a stoner-rock jam were it not for the brief verses that lend a semblance of structure.
As a performer, Jack is a band of his own, rotating guitars and switching among five microphones positioned about the stage. Still, he clearly enjoyed being back with his partner, frequently strolling over to Meg's side for a game of call-and-answer, or their unique brand of frantic interplay. While Meg is known to take over the mic for a song or two in concerts, the only time she did so on Friday was for a charming duet on Loretta Lynn's "Rated X." Looking demure in a black-and-white polka-dot blouse and red '50s scarf, she appeared as satisfied on the sideline as she was eager for a showdown.
As is customary in a White Stripes show, the duo's sudden drum-and-guitar skirmishes came in the most unexpected places on Friday night. Their cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" began gently enough, only to reach a breaking point as Jack raved wildly and implored under fiery red lights: "Please don't take him even though you can!" he wailed. The finale, "Seven Nation Army," accelerated throughout to reach warp speed in its final verse. The crowd's beat-keeping handclaps could hardly keep up.
When the White Stripes toned it down, as they did for a couple of Icky Thump-ers, it reinforced the tether they have on both the music and performance as a whole. "Effect and Cause," a heavy metal jingle of sorts, featured Jack musing, "If you're headed to the grave, you don't blame the hearse." Later, "A Martyr for My Love for You," was downright tender, culminating with Jack yearning, "I hope you appreciate what I do."
For the thousand people who showed up on short notice and were cheering wildly at the special gift White had just bestowed upon his new hometown, the statement was rhetorical.
The White Stripes will appear at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee on June 17, and will kick off their North American tour on June 24 in Burnaby, British Columbia.
The White Stripes' set list, according to Warner Bros. Records:
· "Tennessee Border" (Hank Williams cover)
· "When I Hear My Name"
· "Icky Thump"
· "Black Math"
· "Effect and Cause"
· "Jolene" (Dolly Parton cover)
· "Death Letter" (Son House cover)/ "Motherless Children" (traditional song)
· "Hotel Yorba"
· "A Martyr for My Love for You"
· "John the Revelator" (traditional)
· "Ball and Biscuit"
· "I'm Slowly Turning Into You"
· "We're Going to Be Friends"
· "Apple Blossom"
· "Wasting My Time"
· "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"
· "Rated X" (Loretta Lynn cover)
· "Seven Nation Army"
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.