Nashville residents know the feeling of entering an intimate concert space filled with world-class musicians and a shared sense that something special is about to happen. This, however, was Anchorage, Alaska, on a Monday night — the location for the first of five surprise acoustic shows that Jack White is performing in states where he's never previously toured, effectively bringing the best of his adopted hometown out to the far-reaches of the United States.
Holding court in the 910-seat Wendy Williamson Auditorium — "This is where I had biology last semester," said one audience member — White and his bandmates played a stripped-down, pointedly old-timey set, just three antique street lamps behind them and ribbon microphones in front. It wouldn't have been surprising if they paused for Grand Ole Opry-style live commercial breaks between songs.
With White on a worn acoustic guitar, Fats Kaplin on dobro, Lillie Mae Rische on fiddle and Dominic Davis on upright bass, the quartet opened with Lazaretto's "Just One Drink." Where White's recent Coachella performances were filled with movement, he and his bandmates now stood close together and comfortably still. "We had a nice trip up here with about 100 high school musicians," White told the crowd after finishing "Love Interruption," off 2012's Blunderbuss. From any other adult, that might have been a complaint, but White sounded refreshed by the simplicity of it. He then launched into the single's rarely-played B side, "Machine Gun Silhouette," explaining that he wrote the tune for visual artist Rob Jones, a guy who can "read my mind before I even know it."
Acoustic Jack White seemed far more connected to the audience than his electric counterpart, embracing a new role as old-country troubadour. This White told stories between songs: At one point he detailed the guitar playing he did during his days upholstering furniture and described an old riff that just wouldn't let him go. That line became "Offend in Every Way," which the band played as the first White Stripes song of the night.
In moments like these, the enigmatic singer, songwriter, guitarist and label head seemed quite pleased with the way his career has worked out. This was never truer than when he was introducing "You Know That I Know," the Hank Williams lyrics he set to music for Bob Dylan's The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project. "After dropping the kids off at school, I went back to my day job of finishing writing a Hank Williams song," he joked. "I live on the same street Hank Williams actually lived on in Nashville. So for the first time I asked somebody to really help me. . .I asked Hank to help me finish it. I don't believe in ghosts very much, but maybe there was some sort of energy around there."
White let his smile show a bit more with each song and audience response, the biggest coming coming when a "Happy 4/20 Day, Jack White!" was tossed his way. And when his voice went momentarily flat as he sang Hank's lyrics, he first looked surprised, then settled into a quiet laugh.
The crowd was enthusiastic throughout the show, but the White Stripes' "We're Going to Be Friends," the penultimate song of the main set, sent everyone overboard. The band finished with Lazaretto's "Entitlement" and dipped through the curtain, but a few minutes of yelling and clapping brought White back onstage. First a solo song, "You've Got Her in Your Pocket," then two with the band.
Fittingly, they ended on a folk classic: "Goodnight, Irene." For the final chorus, White stepped from the microphone to the edge of the stage, the room totally silent except for his voice and guitar. "Sing it with me," he requested of the audience. They did exactly that, sending the night off with an "I'll see you in my dreams" before exploding into applause.
"Just One Drink"
"Machine Gun Silhouette"
"Offend in Every Way"
"The Same Boy You've Always Known"
"Alone in My Home"
"You Know That I Know"
"We're Going to Be Friends"
"You've Got Her in Your Pocket"
"A Martyr For My Love For You"