Jack White, right, with his new band The Dead Weather. From left, Alison… (Christopher Berkley / For…)
NASHVILLE — Jack White took the wraps off his new band here Wednesday night, launching phase three of his ever-evolving career with a 20-minute live performance by Dead Weather, fronted by the Kills singer Alison Mosshart, at the site of his new Third Man Records headquarters.
The private show, attended by about 150 invitees, took place in the downtown building that houses not only the label's offices but a performance space, a record store specializing in vinyl, a photo studio and a darkroom.
White, playing drums and singing with Mosshart, is joined in the new group by two of his Raconteurs bandmates, guitarist Dean Fertita (also from Queens of the Stone Age) and bassist Jack Lawrence.
During the four-song set, Mosshart writhed at the mike while Fertita and Lawrence provided the heavy blues-rock groove on sibling white single-cutaway Gretsch hollow body guitar and bass. Mosshart joined them with a matching white Bo Diddley cigar box guitar for "So Far From Your Weapon."
White took his place at the drums, the instrument on which he first learned to play music. He came out from behind his kit just once, duetting at the mike with Mosshart on "Weapon."
The band's debut album, "Horehound," is due in June, and the first single will be "Hang You From the Heavens," which Third Man is issuing on a 7-inch vinyl single as well as making it available for download.
Before the performance, White, outfitted head to toe in black, said he had wanted to put together a multifaceted space like the one he's created for Third Man for some time, but his myriad musical pursuits proved too much of a distraction.
"I've been wanting to do this for eight years, but it's taken that long to have enough time -- and I mean like 15 minutes," White, 33, said, as guests, including Sheryl Crow and Martina McBride, chatted in the complex's kitchen-lounge, which was decorated with a '40s and '50s retro vibe.
"The key is the United Pressing Plant is two blocks away. We've set it up so we can put things out immediately."
He said Third Man would focus mainly on his musical projects. He aims to reissue whatever music of his own that's out of print as well as recordings that are out of circulation, and he spoke energetically about restoring some of the physical component of experiencing music that's been lost in the age of downloading and what he calls "invisible music."
"Only 20% of music released during the 20th century is available right now," White said. "That's a lot of music that's getting lost."
It was easy to get lost in "Horehound" during Wednesday's listening session. The album was cranked close to pain threshold on monstrous vintage McIntosh tube stereo amplifiers, one of them whimsically relabeled as a "JackIntosh."
White has managed to find a considerable amount of inspiration in his adopted hometown of Nashville. He has recorded much of his work with the Raconteurs in the country music capital, in addition to the 2004 album he played on and produced for Loretta Lynn, "Van Lear Rose."
The man with a penchant for vintage western clothing bought a house here at the end of 2005 for a reported $3.1 million -- painting the front door and chimney White Stripes red and establishing Music City as his new home with his wife, supermodel Karen Elson, and their two young children.
He turned most of his attention to the Raconteurs after White Stripes drummer Meg White pulled out of a planned 2007 tour because of sudden-onset anxiety. But they reportedly have been recording periodically and resurfaced about three weeks ago for a performance on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" for the host's final show before taking over his new duties chairing "The Tonight Show."
The shy percussionist, along with the Raconteurs' Brendan Benson, was on hand Wednesday to show support for Dead Weather, which with songs built on gargantuan guitar and bass hooks, thunderous drums and Mosshart's yearning vocals, has more in common sonically with stripped-down White Stripes and, occasionally, the sinister rock of the Kills than that of the Raconteurs.
She wasn't talking, but White's manager said the duo was still alive and well. "They've made a movie and there will be a new album out, probably next year," Ian Montone said.
Regardless of the viability of the White Stripes, White's multi-pronged approach to music-making has made him the poster boy for a new millennial model in which musicians develop different forums for their creative impulses.
"I'm on a major label, obviously," Crow said a few minutes before Dead Weather inaugurated the Third Man performance space. "It's exciting to those of us who face some of the frustrations of being on a major label to think there's a place like this that can help people put more music out quickly."
Ultimately, White's experiment to build a company that can usher music directly from those who create it to those who want to hear it faces the same question Dead Weather poses in the closing track of "Horehound":
"When I set sail
Will there be enough wind? . . .
Will there be enough water
When my ship comes in?"