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Jack White at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 8/8/12 (photos and review)

After Jack White electrified the crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Wednesday night with an opening trio of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “Missing Pieces” and “Love Interruption,” he stopped to look up at the sold-out crowd that had packed the natural amphitheater.

“I know you like country music out here, right?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he launched into a “Hotel Yorba” that was more country-fried, back-porch hootenanny than jing-jangly, good-times garage rock. As White lovingly featured his band – pointing to them with the neck of his guitar for solos and shouting out song titles on the fly like any charismatic big band leader – he gave up so much of the control he famously holds close to the chest.

A take on the White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba” with a fiddle more prominent than White’s guitar? A version of the Dead Weather’s “Blue Blood Blues” where the almost-western twang of the band outperformed the frenetic howl of White’s upper register?

White has gone from layering his musical output with self-imposed regulations and restrictions to trusting others, and as Wednesday’s show proved, it’s serving him well.

Did White just throw down the best show of summer 2012? Yep. It was that good, and with White confidently straddling material from his recent solo debut “Blunderbuss” alongside work from past bands White Stripes, the Dead Weather and even the Raconteurs, the musical variety was legit.

And White’s guitar work? From his newly improvised solos over familiar material such as “Steady as She Goes” to his standard licks on “Ball and Biscuit,” White backed up his reputation for being one of the fiercest, most unapologetic guitar players in the game.

On this tour, White alternates between an all-female band (the Peacocks) and an all-male band (the Buzzards). At his surprise show earlier Wednesday, in the parking lot of a mechanic shop on West Colfax Avenue, White was backed in a sparse set-up by the Buzzards. At Red Rocks, it was the Peacocks’ turn to shine.

The White Stripes material seemed to resonate best with the Red Rocks crowd, and most of it was stellar. The “Seven Nation Army” in the encore was a thrill, with White playing a mean ol’ hollow-body as he managed the faux-bassline. But “The Hardest Button to Button” was the night’s biggest moment, as the band exploded with life on the driving, plotting, melodic piece of storytelling.

As for “Blunderbuss,” it played well in a live setting – and side-by-side to White’s much-beloved back catalog. “Sixteen Saltines” slayed the slap-happy crowd, and “I Guess I Should Go to Sleep” provided a sweet, relaxed moment for the energized amphitheater. “Missing Pieces” was an ideal way start the concert. The title track was a rare soft-spoken moment, a chance to hear White’s continued excellence in lyricism – one of his undervalued talents. And “Love Interruption” is one of the strangest, most perverse love songs of all time – and as White played it early on at Red Rocks on Wednesday, it was clear that this was going to be a very special night. And it was.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.

Glenn Ross is a Denver-based photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.