The swan that flew over Jack White’s new blue hair as he brought this two-part secret show to a close was perhaps an omen that reports of the death of rock’n’roll are premature. Especially as White – playing Seven Nation Army at the time – was standing on a balcony high above an ecstatic bottleneck of people just off Carnaby Street on Saturday night. Naff old Carnaby Street, the place that makes Las Vegas look like Tupelo, may finally have its mojo back. Twenty years since the White Stripes played a famous show at the 100 Club and reinvigorated the capital’s rock music scene, Jack White’s at it again.
There had been long queues all day for the opening of Third Man Records London, a new shop/venue/label/hang-out on Marshall Street, adjacent to Carnaby, a first international branch of the original store in Nashville that opened in 2009. Even its distinctive yellow and black colour scheme has enough of an aura to have bled on to the clothes and shoes of those gathered. Two exhilarating shows by White demonstrated exactly why the mystique exists.
The first was in the basement venue of the shop – a bar called The Blue Room, hence White’s dye job – where 70 people crammed right up against the band. White, along with Dominic Davis on bass and a sensational Daru Jones on drums, barely paused for breath (possibly because there was no air down there) during a feverish set that started with early Stripes classic Hello Operator, the Dead Weather’s I Cut Like a Buffalo, and finished with a synth-shredding Icky Thump. At such close proximity it’s possible to see just how intricate and imposing White is as a musician, his sweet and salty style creating an irresistible tangle of sweet melodies and heavy payoffs.
After that, White dashed off out the front of the shop, and over to Damien Hirst’s building at the end of the street. The artist had given the band permission to use his balcony, and fans gathered outside in suspense exploded in delight when sheets were removed to reveal hidden amps and a giant Third Man banner. It looked just about legal, but as White’s blue flame hair appeared and the band struck up Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, it certainly didn’t sound legal: so loud it drowned out the noise of the police helicopter that began circling overhead.
Clearly having a ball, White showed off his showman side, leaning over the railing for a guitar solo, playing a raucous, singalong Steady As She Goes, and dedicating We’re Going to Be Friends to their new neighbours in Soho and London as a whole. The finale of Seven Nation Army felt like a reminder of old power and a harbinger of new possibilities. The Queen’s swans were clearly on board.