Jack White bros down for an intimate in-store

Despite the gleaming onyx tour bus and the cop car occupying the loading zone, the crowd sprouting like Marlboro-scented weeds along the front wall, and the scratchy garble of walkie-talkies last Thursday night, some people still didn't get that this wasn't your typical vinyl-browsing evening at Amoeba. Around 8:30, while the Haight Street establishment prepped for one of its biggest live performances (next to Tenacious D, of course), a denim-clad twentysomething scratched her head as to why she couldn't just "run in and buy a CD." As the balding doorman explained, even if the reason for her visit was to purchase something, she'd have to wait in line with everyone else or return later that night. That moment belonged to the Raconteurs— which is to say, the hot shit was in the house, and everyone else could just pick up that Gnarls Barkley CD later. That a band making the indie nation wipe a collective slobber rag decides to do two Amoeba performances in one day (at 11 a.m. in L.A. and 9:30 p.m. in San Francisco) shouldn't be lost on anyone. After all, the last time Jack White picked up a guitar among close-out bins of Eagles discs was when a writer could still e-mail Sympathy for the Record Industry for a White Stripes interview and get his home phone number in response. Since then, the frontman's career has blossomed like drummer facial hair: He's dated, married, and impregnated an actress and a model. He toured the world — and helped it buy a Coke in a TV jingle. He fashioned his look into candy-striped Johnny Depp. With a fame arc that busted the sound barrier years ago, White is now attempting to work a bit of normalcy back into things. Last summer I caught him and Meg White at a Washington state Chevron station, buying smokes and waiting to take a piss like everyone else, on their way to an amphitheater gig in black Hummers.

Taking a leak surrounded by Slurpees is one thing; shoehorning yourself into a free in-store quite another. But as the reviews have laid plain, the Raconteurs is White rock with less pretense: no costumes, and lyrics about girls with hands that feel and hearts that light the way, and seasoned bandmates who've paid indie dues (that is, members of the Greenhorns and genteel pop idol Brendan Benson). Best of all, it's White gone turbo-electric, as his performance under that single chandelier went a long way to prove.

With fans comfortably corralled into the aisles (thanks to employees who, after passing out free earplugs, directed people like cars in an airport drop-off lane into less congested areas), heads enthusiastically bopped along as the band launched into its set. The Raconteurs' debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, got one of its early live U.S. unveilings here, as White leaped around the stage for big hit "Steady as She Goes," the black-and-blue balladry of "My Blue Veins," and "Store Bought Bones" (which suggests, for some, that shoppers flip through Amoeba's Deep Purple selection). Despite my being stuck in the opposite corner from the stage (near Big John Patton and Oliver Nelson jazz records), and despite bright fluorescent lighting that makes Safeway at 2 a.m. seem dim, this was definitely a Big Rock Show. And it was as intimate a rock show as we'll likely get from these guys (the Raconteurs hit the Warfield with Kelley Stoltz on July 23).

The early White/Zeppelin vocal influences resurfaced live that night, and White's frantic boom complemented Benson's more stable delivery, each singer reinforcing the other's strengths. Of the two, Benson needed the loud jolt the most — his pop songs lean too heavily toward the precious, and at Amoeba he hammered down more of the rocking vocals from Broken Boy Soldiers than I expected.

Forty-five minutes after the start — and one quick "How are you doing? I haven't seen you in a while" to the crowd from a gregarious White — the band followed its leader off the stage. But not before the ghostly pale frontman offered a cheery "Thank you so much, I love you guys." And that Gnarls Barkley CD once again went up for sale.

 
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