It’s been eight years since the Raconteurs came together for a live performance, and on Saturday night, as part of Third Man Records’ 10-year anniversary party, Jack White, Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler reunited to kick off their forthcoming LP, Help Us Stranger, with a tight set of songs new and old that show the foursome hasn’t rusted a bit in their time off. After a sweet introduction from White’s mother Teresa Gillis, the foursome launched into fan favorite “Consoler of the Lonely” — the same way they started their shows on their last tour together nearly a decade ago.
Playing on a yellow and black stage erected in the lot outside of Third Man Record’s storefront and with the Nashville skyline — one that has changed enormously in the years since White moved to town in 2006 — in the background, the Raconteurs debuted a sampling of Help Us Stranger‘s new songs like “Now That You’re Gone,” “Born and Razed” and the title track (after which White asked the crowd, “Should we put that on the album?”) alongside oldies like “Salute Your Solution.” White and Benson easily slipped back into their dual front man roles, with the Third Man himself playing crowd conductor for an arena-worthy sing-along on “Steady as She Goes.” The band finished with Broken Boy Soldier’s “Blue Veins,” which White exploded with a lengthy guitar solo on his Flying V.
The performance was part of a full day of music and a sprawling street festival celebrating Third Man Records, which set up shop long before Nashville’s “It City” boom. When the black and yellow storefront opened in 2009, it was a pivotal moment in the town’s sea change from country music capital to cutting-edge Southern hub, full of ideas, bands and creative masterminds that were ready to challenge the idea that New York and L.A. could only serve as the country’s main artistic centers. In the years since, Third Man has expanded rapidly, signing artists like Margo Price and Joshua Hedley (who both played afternoon DJ sets at the event), branching out into books and opening a Detroit location, complete with vinyl pressing plant, to help further realize White’s dedication to all things acetate. They even shot a record into space and made the world’s fasted record.
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It’s also become an integral part of the Nashville musical community, hosting everything from children’s events to special concerts in the Blue Room venue, which has seen Pearl Jam and Father John Misty, among others, on its stage. Saturday’s lineup included Craig Brown Band, Lillie Mae, the Gories and Quintron & Miss Pussycat, showing just how musically diverse their approach is — Third Man doesn’t have a sound as much as a mission to highlight artists that could go criminally unheard in a commercial-focused market.
“The next ten years of Third Man is going to be a whole lot more,” says Ben Swank, “Consigliere” of Third Man Records. “More art, more rock and roll, more film, poetry, old punks ceding the way for the young DIY’ers, more protest, more paradigm smashing, more tears in the rain and sands in the hourglass. It’s going to be ten more years of invoking things that make us all feel something honest in this age of capitalist nihilism and we’re going to do it with all of our friends and family of independent labels and stores, publishers and artists together.”
Third Man has also established a reputation among artists as an ally in terms of creative control, particularly in a city where the bottom line can be priority Number One. When Price was shopping her debut, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Third Man was the only label that would not only sign her, but also agree to release the project completely untouched. For Hedley, Third Man has been a sense of family.
“It’s a label run by musicians,” says Hedley. “That’s rare. Most label executives couldn’t tell you shit from shinola, all they care about is dollar signs. They find a pretty face who can halfway carry a tune, tell them what to sing, what to wear, how to act, what to say, and how to say it. Third Man is a different beast. They care about the records they release and they care about the artists making those records. I guarantee you 90% of the executives at any given label on Music Row couldn’t tell you half the names on their roster. Every single person working at Third Man could damn near tell you my life story. They give a shit and that’s refreshing in Music City.”
Third Man will be releasing Help Us Stranger — the Raconteurs’ third studio LP and their first in over a decade since 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely — on June 21st. The Raconteurs will play two more shows at Third Man’s Blue Room this week on April 8th and 9th.