Jack White helps Chris Thile feel right at 'Prairie Home'

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Chris Thile and Jack White
Chris Thile performs alongside Jack White on 'A Prairie Home Companion.' Oct. 15, 2016 (MPR / Nate Ryan)
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  • Jack White - A Prairie Home Companion - Oct. 15, 2016 22:21
  • Lake Street Dive - A Prairie Home Companion - Oct. 15, 2016 19:14

With a bounce in his step and a mandolin under his arm, Chris Thile walked across the Fitzgerald Theater stage as host of A Prairie Home Companion on Saturday, his first show as Garrison Keillor's successor.

Having longtime Prairie Home pianist and music director Richard Dworsky and his fellow Punch Brothers Chris Eldridge and Paul Kowert by his side, Thile, a native of California, coyly eased into the evening with a heartfelt address with Midwest appeal to the live audience, on-air listeners and those streaming online, expressing his love for fall and the Cubs (who went on to win game one of their MLB playoff series against the Los Angeles Dodgers that night). He gave love to Minnesota specifically, too, praising the undefeated Vikings and the decorated Lynx, who are playing toward their fourth WNBA title in five years. He even successfully performed a spitfire version of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" to congratulate the recent Nobel Prize winner.

Introducing the program's new and topical "Song of the Week" segment, Chris Thile tastefully poked fun at the "drunken, belligerent elephant in the room": the 2016 election season. "I use an insecure email server on the regular, and I went through a stretch where I didn't pay income taxes for 18 years - after which I graduated high school and got a job."

But before jumping into song, Thile addressed another elephant in the room (who was seemingly not in the room): the man newly announced as the show's executive producer.

"I want to thank Garrison Keillor, not just for giving me this dream gig, but for giving all of us A Prairie Home Companion. Garrison, the skill, energy, generosity and sheer imagination with which you've constructed this show that means so much to so many is beyond inspiring, it's life-affirming."

In place of Keillor's monologue, the new era of Prairie Home will welcome a comedian each episode, debuting with Irish native Maeve Higgins who joked about living in NYC and gave advice to attract straight men. But the song of the week segment could very well be a Thile monologue reimagined.

Between offhand humor segments about English majors and a trip to Mars, musical acts entertained a responsive 1,000 person audience. Lake Street Dive, who share the Nonesuch record label with the Punch Brothers, brought both a swinging energy with "Call Off Your Dogs" and sober message with "Mistakes." They also pulled off a performance of Prince's "When U Were Mine," just two days after the Twin Cities declared it Prince Day and big-name artists paid tribute across the street at the Xcel Energy Center.

But Jack White was clearly the musical draw for Prairie Home's sold-out audience. White's no-monitor, no-direct-input setup fit the show and was not dissimilar from his five-date acoustic tour in 2015, the closest stop being Fargo, ND. The four-piece band performed "City Lights," a long-lost White Stripes track recently released on a new acoustic compilation, plus the Raconteurs' "Carolina Drama," a cover of Bobby Bare's "Margie's at the Lincoln Park Inn" and White's first live performance of "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)" since 2005 with special guest Margo Price.

The crowd roared with applause as White and his band left the stage. How was Thile going to follow that? On what note would his first show as new host of A Prairie Home Companion end?

A high one.

In bluegrass fashion, Thile and his talented house band performed "Radio Boogie."

Well I got me a hat and old guitar
And I made a down payment on a second hand car
I got me a job on the radio
Now I'm saving up money for a fiddle and a bow

Do the radio boogie
All over the dial
With a solid kick and a red hot lick
And some Tennessee style

Do the radio boogie, Chris.

New episodes of A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Chris Thile will re-air on The Current Sunday nightsnat at 10 p.m. CT.

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