Karen Elson surely knew the answer when she asked her audience Friday night at the Stage on Sixth: "Are you ready for Jack?"
The night was dedicated to Jack White's Third Man Records label, but as his ex-wife plainly knew, he was the star of the show and the reason a line of hopefuls stretched more than block past the entrance to the club, where Third Man's yellow Rolling Record Store was parked. It was only the White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather man's fourth full solo show, but the buzz was on that it was as much, if not more, the place to be on Friday as his onetime Detroit colleague Eminem's Shady 2.0 bash across town at the Austin Music Hall.
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Fortunately, White's two-part concert - witnessed by Bill Murray and Stooges drummer Scott "Rock Action" Asheton -- lived up to the expectations and hype, with an hour and a half (plus intermission) of material from throughout his career to this point.
As on "Saturday Night Live" and the recent Third Man third anniversary celebration in Nashville, White played with two different groups - one all-female, one all-male. The former was a bit more stately during its nine-song set, with a gray-suited White leading the troupe - including periodic duet partner Ruby Amansu - through renditions of the Stripes' "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," "Hotel Yorba" and "Icky Thump," as well as the Raconteurs' "Top Yourself" and "You Know What I Know," his contribution to the "Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams" project. The upcoming solo album "Blunderbuss," meanwhile, was represented by the enthusiastically received "Sixteen Saltines" and "Weep Themselves to Sleep."
Changing into a black T-shirt, White returned with the dude band and wild-eyed aesthetic that led to the righteously noisy dynamics of material such as the Raconteurs' "Steady As She Goes," Dead Weather's "Cuts Like a Buffalo," the new "Hypocritical Kiss" - which finished with an extended jam - and a bevy of White Stripes favorites that included "My Doorbell" and "Hello Operator" and pounding renditions of "The Hardest Button to Button," "Ball and a Biscuit" and a "Seven Nation Army" that had fans both inside the club and outside listening on Sixth Street chanting along. Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" was, in comparison, a gentle lullabye for an ecstatic group of fans.
Some of those, by the way, weren't around for that closing. Third Man issued a strict no photos of any kind policy, whether professional or cell phone, instead offering images for free download at the label's web site. Despite the expressed warnings, club bouncers kept busy, particularly during White's portion of the showcase, showing the prohibition was serous.
White, meanwhile, could also be proud of the rest of the Third Man lineup, 10 other acts that ranged from the garagey fury of Natural Child and Purling Hiss to the electro-pop flair of the White Rabbits and Electric Guest and a solo performance by Australia's Lanie Lane. Reggie Watts had the club bouncing to his one-man combination of singing, beat-boxing and looping, while actor John C. Reilly and his Friends band played a convincing set of country - "I thought that might be good in Texas," he quipped - that was at times too quiet for the room. Reilly did, however, win more friends by dedicating his portion of the show to "everyone who doesn't have a badge."
Elson, meanwhile, was something of a revelation. Fortified by a relatively new band that included the Greenhornes/Ractonteurs rhythm section - bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler - the British-born model, singer and songwriters's seven-song set put a notably more muscular drive and energy behind the tunes from her album "The Ghost Who Walks." She also introduced a new song, "Milk and Honey," that will be issued by Third Man on Record Store Day in April.