The inaugural MI Fest, about 75 miles southwest of Detroit, served as a showcase for all things Jack White, including young bands who’ve recorded for his Third Man Records imprint. But the real attraction was a supercharged 14-song, 85-minute set by the Raconteurs, his band featuring Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence, and Patrick Keeler, who ended three years of dormancy on the MI Fest stage.
Following a pair of low-key warm-up gigs in Nashville last week, the Raconteurs sounded fresh and invigorated, tearing through songs from their two albums, 2006’s Broken Boy Soldiers and 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely, but failing to unveil any new material. As was their wont on previous tours, the band — rounded out by Dean Fertita, White’s collaborator on the Dead Weather, on both keys and guitar — continued to give White ample space to do his thing, and he punished his axe during a seething “Many Shades of Black” and a furious “Broken Boy Soldier.”
The give-and-take between White and Benson has always been at the heart of the Raconteurs, and the pair maintained a natural, easygoing chemistry onstage. The two friends conferred throughout the show, sharing quick laughs together even while trading guitar solos, and playing off each other seamlessly during the vocal ping-pong match of “Level” and on “Intimate Secretary.”
By the end of the Raconteurs’ last tour, the Broken Boy Soldiers closer “Blue Veins” had become the gut-puncher of the band’s live set, and Saturday’s epic reading didn’t disappoint. Opening with an extended jam and winding through a loose, airy midsection, the song closed the group’s main set in appropriately dramatic fashion. A three-song encore of “Steady, As She Goes,” “Hands,” and campfire murder tale “Carolina Drama” finished things off for the night.
While White was not an official organizer of MI Fest, you’d be forgiven if you assumed he was; even Sheryl Crow thanked him “for inviting us to come play” during her evening set, which immediately preceded the Raconteurs’ performance. But his influence could be felt throughout the grounds. The bright yellow Third Man Records Rolling Record Store was on site, selling exclusive merchandise — including limited edition tri-color vinyl copies of White’s recent internet-shaking collaboration with Insane Clown Posse — to fans who waited in lines that stretched for an hour-plus throughout the day.
And while rumors of a live collaboration with ICP didn’t come to fruition, a handful of Third Man bands played the Third Man stage, including garage rockers Black Belles, Nashville rock’n’roller Pujol, and sizzling sibling duo JEFF the Brotherhood. Detroit rapper Black Milk, who released a White-produced single on Third Man over the summer, performed as well, and was greeted by White with a hug when he walked off stage.
White, spotted onsite with his recently divorced ex-wife Karen Elson, their children, and members of his family, also watched from the sidelines as Pujol performed mid-afternoon, and was seen side-stage during actor-cum-folk-singer Jeff Daniels’ performance as well.
Raconteurs fans may still have to wait for news of new material, but folks beyond Michigan have two more chances to see them this year, at New Orleans’ Voodoo Music Experience in October, and the inaugural Orlando Calling festival in November.
Consoler of the Lonely
Salute Your Solution
You Don’t Understand Me
Many Shades of Black
The Switch and the Spur
Broken Boy Soldier
Steady, As She Goes