Jack White hasn’t played many club shows since the White Stripes broke through 20 years ago, but the artist returned to both his music and Midwest roots in a surprise show at Chicago’s Empty Bottle on Wednesday (Dec. 7), providing a hint of what it might have been like to witness the now mega-star in his primal days.
The last-minute show at the hallowed music dive and beacon of Chicago’s ‘90s rock scene was announced just two days earlier. It sold out in seconds and kicked off a golden ticket goose chase as fans tried to get into the club ahead of White’s appearance tonight at the 4,000-person Aragon Ballroom, which is part of a local radio station Q101’s holiday concert series.
Selecting the venue was intentional since White has a long history with the Empty Bottle. The venue is where he and Meg White played in Chicago during the earliest days of the White Stripes, beginning in January 2000, and they made it their Chicago home for the next two years. “In a year-and-a-half, we came to Empty Bottle seven times,” the blue-haired White told the crowd last night. “You’d think they’d tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘We think you have Chicago covered.’”
The no-frills setup also dovetailed with White’s one-take, analog ethos. It’s easy to imagine that someone of his stature still craves that rare opportunity to dial it back. For the fans, it was a moment to be close enough to see the technicality of his precise playing. The lower White went on the fretboard, the more the crowd leaned back in amazement in an ongoing limbo.
The Detroit kickoff of the Supply Chain Issues World Tour made news in April for White’s onstage proposal and instant wedding to longtime partner Olivia Jean, and last night’s final proper headlining date of the trek felt like the intimate reception party, though it was more of a celebration of White’s long marriage to music. The 29-song, two-and-a-half-hour set featured songs from across White’s catalog, with solo material and songs from the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather sprinkled in. The early aughts game-changer “Fell in Love With a Girl” elicited body-smashing pogo dancing from the sticky, wall-to-wall crowd, and cuts from 2022 releases Fear of the Dawn and Entering Heaven Alive were just as well received by an uproarious audience clinging to every note.
White was backed by his exceptional Supply Chain Issues band featuring drummer Daru Jones, bassist Dominic John Davis, and keyboardist Quincy McCrary, and the show felt like a voyeuristic view of a garage jam session by a troupe that took every opportunity to improvise and play with arrangements and tempos. They tore into the show with the scorching fuzz of “Taking Me Back” and found boogie moments with “Trash Tongue Talker,” with White pounding the piano like the spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis found its way into him. Later, “Steady, As She Goes” climaxed with White going off mic for an a cappella showdown.
“We’re gonna catch our breath for 2.5 seconds,” White said during a brief moment of respite from the music, which also included a cover of the D.O.C.’s “It’s Funky Enough,” “Hotel Yorba” (dedicated to the staff of the Empty Bottle), and “We’re Going To Be Friends” (dedicated to everyone in the club).
White was also joined by Dead Weather/Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita on keys for “I Cut Like a Buffalo” (an audience favorite, eliciting several “Fuck yeahs”) and the Raconteurs’ “Carolina Drama.” Before bringing Fertita back out, White shared a story about when he and the keyboardist once scolded a band member for trying to woo a girl at the Empty Bottle bar instead of loading out gear.
In 2022, Chicago has been home to some very intimate club shows by arena- and stadium-level bands, including Green Day, Metallica, and Porno For Pyros. But there was something particularly unique about White’s club appearance this December night. No smartphones were allowed (attendees had to lock them up in Yondr pouches on arrival, which is the norm for a White headlining show), and the device-free mandate was an apropos way to bring the vibe at Empty Bottle back to simpler times.
Watching White hop and scoot across the small stage, lead the audience in group clap-a-longs, and break from his stoicism to smile repeatedly is not currently par for the course with the modern era’s anointed Rock God. Maybe it was the full moon or just muscle memory from those early days. With the constrictions of the small space, White’s guitar techs were forced to be part of the crowd on the floor, holding a priceless collection of instruments you hoped no one would bump into with a PBR.
“I appreciate all the effort and trouble you did to be in this room,” White said to the devoted crowd, many of whom were members of the Third Man Vault. The night ended with a full band bow and a plea to Chicago: “Please don’t let the Empty Bottle ever close.”
Jack White’s Empty Bottle Setlist:
“Taking Me Back”
“Fear of the Dawn”
“Black Math” (The White Stripes cover)
“Cannon” (The White Stripes cover)
“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” (The White Stripes cover)
“Hotel Yorba” (The White Stripes cover)
“Trash Tongue Talker”
“When I Hear My Name” (The White Stripes cover)
“Suzy Lee” (The White Stripes cover)
“Another Way To Die” (Jack White & Alicia Keys cover)
“High Ball Stepper”
“A Tip From You to Me”
“The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” (The White Stripes cover)
“I Cut Like a Buffalo” (The Dead Weather cover)
“Love Is Selfish”
“We’re Going To Be Friends” (The White Stripes cover)
“Carolina Drama” (The Raconteurs cover)
“Fell in Love With a Girl” (The White Stripes cover)
“It’s Funky Enough” (The D.O.C. cover)
“Freedom at 21”
“Hello Operator (The White Stripes cover)
“Steady, As She Goes” (The Raconteurs cover)
“That Black Licorice”
“A Madman From Manhattan”
“Shedding My Velvet”
“Ball and Biscuit” (The White Stripes cover)