A mesmerising show from the Stripes...sweat and passion!
To begin with, funnily enough, what you notice is the silence. Not from the crowd, or the band, or anything like that, but in the newspapers. Where are you now, Dominic Mohan? Where are you now, puzzled broadsheets? Where’s that Radio 4 Today Programme analytical report I ordered? The answer is, refreshingly, nowhere to be seen. When White Stripes last came to England, they did so not only accompanied by their fine music, but by the thunderous noise of a British press having a bit of a slow week. White Stripes were a panacea for all musical ills. They had invented, apparently, ‘blunk’ (a hybrid of blues and punk), were the best thing since Jimi Hendrix, and they supposedly had John Peel in tears. The implication was clear. Something very important was happening.
And now? Well, there’s nothing.
Really, it’s all got to be for the best. The air having cleared around them, Jack and Meg White can get on with performing what should be their most important function. Jack White pale and twitching, running from microphone to microphone, wherever the blues takes him. Meg White playing with a strange half-smile, half-scowl as if enjoying some private joke. Basically, with being an excellent band, as simple as that is, and as cool as that is.
But, you know, what a weird band. Never mind the whole red and white business, or the somewhat inessential cover of ‘Jolene’. Never mind the spare instrumentation, or the speculation that Jack and Meg may not be brother and sister at all, but a former married couple. This is more weird in an old, old school way, a legendary way, a mysterious forces kind of way. The word ‘charisma’ is thrown about pretty indiscriminately, but charisma is exactly what White Stripes have on their side.
Let’s face it, they’ve not got much else. In a musical landscape where we are presented with bands with the rawness and the scratchiness polished out, White Stripes are a total anomaly, a difficult band who don’t attempt to woo you but make you come to them. They’re dealing with an odd format, too – a drummer-guitarist two-piece isn’t really one that leaps off the page at you. Then there’s the absence of showmanship: their audience involvement is minimal to say the least (“My name’s Jack White and this is my big sister Meg”), all of which could be quite a forbidding notion.
But it’s exactly this weirdness, these differences that allow their charisma to shine through. Watching White Stripes is potentially like watching a pretty average garage rock band (like support act The Von Bondies, who feature Jack White’s girlfriend), but is actually like being mesmerised by a brilliant story.
They don’t have big numbers, or anything designed to push your buttons. They just have songs (a good 20 or so, but to name just a few, ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’, ‘Apple Blossom’, new single ‘Hotel Yorba’) which have the cumulative effect of drawing you into their world, and under their spell.
For sure, it’s the blues, and to hear it played with its signature qualities of sweat and passion rather than just bland virtuosity is great enough. White Stripes transcend the medium with the force of their personality and their performance. Yesterday’s news for some, by now. Where it matters, it’s today’s and tomorrow’s news too.