There was a rare tornado warning Sunday night for Allegheny County. It turned out to be Jack White.
On his first trip to Pittsburgh in six years, the rocker from Nashville, by way of Detroit, blew through Stage AE with Tasmanian Devil energy, slashing through more than 20 breathless songs in his 90-minute set.
He hit the stage with "Fell in Love with a Girl," a song he last did here with drummer Meg White in the White Stripes in 2003. Nowadays, he's discarded minimalism to bounce off six other musicians on stage, most notably sidekick/fiddler Lillie Mae Risch and Daru Jones, a drummer who plays with so much energy and action he can barely sit down.
It's less a wall of sound than a fortress that shoots stuff at you, with Mr. White attacking his guitar solos, no more so than on "High Ball Stepper," in spastic bursts. With this band he's kind of like, well, a kid let loose on a playground. Something of a dream come true.
In fact, he didn't take much time to talk, maybe knowing a storm was brewing somewhere behind Heinz Field, but he did relay a dream he had coming to Pittsburgh. He said (in almost these exact words), "I was next to a river petting a baby lamb and up walked Roberto Clemente. He said, 'What are you doing here?' I said, 'I thought I was supposed to be here.' He said, 'Don't you know the world is just a giant grade-school playground?' Sounds like sound advice. Thank you,Roberto Clemente. This is for Roberto!" he said, ripping into the Raconteurs song "Top Yourself."
Mr. White is on tour with his second solo album, "Lazaretto," and he's pretty much tossed aside the excellent first one,"Blunderbuss," to focus on the new material and reach deeper into the catalog. One reworked gem was a oldtime western barroom version of "Hotel Yorba," driven by the nimble pedal steel work of Fats Kaplin. Fittingly, it led into "Just One Drink," one of several songs in which he shared the mic with Ms. Risch, who brings a feverish pitch to a duet. Hearing her sing on that and "Temporary Ground," it was like you turned the treble all the way to the right on your car stereo.
Mr. White took the same playground energy back to the synths on "Three Women" and settled more quietly at the upright piano for "The Rose With the Broken Neck," a song from the Danger Mouse venture "Rome."
Also in that varied middle section, playful sloppiness reigned on a solo acoustic "You've Got Her in Your Pocket" that was occasionally on key and a wild "Alone in My Home," with Mr. White switching to a white guitar was detuned in some bizarro dissonant fashion. If you weren't paying attention, you may have missed a piece of Zeppelin-y White Stripes classic "Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground" glued onto "The Hardest Button to Button."
Given reports of a three-hour show in Chicago Wednesday (doesn't seem possible, actually), it was a little surprising when he exited just past the hour mark. The encore was almost like a second set, and a great one with two blasts from "Blunderbuss" ("Missing Pieces" and "Sixteen Saltines"), plus tasty heavy rockers "The Black Bat Licorice" and "Ball and a Biscuit."
It all took on a little extra urgency with the rain starting to pour down -- and then lightning at almost at the same time (10:30) and same spot as the previous night with Jason Aldean. Braving the storm, he and his crack band drew a cheer from the soaked crowd when he sang on "Would You Fight for My Love?" "not afraid of standing out in the rain."
Given all the weather anxiety throughout the day, it was more a relief than anything to make it to the end of the show. The whole thing may have been something of a blur, but one that fans will never forget.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2576.