White Stripes/Buff Medways : London E1 93 Feet East

...it’s impossible to conceive of them having an off night...

Tonight should have been a night off for Jack and Meg. They might have caught a movie, or hung out with Meg’s new friends, The Strokes. After all, they’ve barely stopped since they hit our shores last autumn. Last month, the [a]White Stripes[/a]

slayed Australia on The Big Day Out tour; next week, they’re off to Europe. And yet, here they are – Meg smiling her little Mona Lisa smile as she psychically cues up her beats with her brother’s guitar, Jack’s entire body reverberating with the electricity in his riffs – thanking [I]us[/I] for coming out.

What brings them out – other their passion for playing out – is their support act. The superb Buff Medways are the latest incarnation of former Headcoat, artist and cultural irritant Billy Childish, long-admired by Jack and anyone who knows anything about punk blues. Childish was going to paint live onstage during the [a]White Stripes[/a]’

‘Top Of The Pops’ performance, but the dullards at ‘TOTP’ wouldn’t allow it. Dressed like Civil War combatants gone to seed, the three Medways crank out almost unbearably perfect early rock‘n’roll – like their forthcoming single ‘Troubled Mind’ – to a stunned, then ecstatic, reception.

If it’s hard to imagine the [a]White Stripes[/a]

having a night off, it’s impossible to conceive of them having an off night. Tonight’s colour is pure red; tonight’s sound is even more hot-blooded than ever before. Jack’s in theatrical voice, tearing through the opening troika of ‘Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground’, ‘I Smell A Rat’ and their new single ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ in a deranged falsetto, barely wrapping his lips around the words. He takes the time to introduce Meg’s vocals on ‘Hotel Yorba’, but the tsunami of sound coming out of the amps (and crowd) means that she can’t be heard. There’s little chat; just Jack assuring us he’s not being big-headed when he sings ‘Lord Send Me An Angel’, or slipping in references to nearby Whitechapel when they cover ‘Jack The Ripper’.

Hits aside, the [a][/a]

are at their most untouchable when unleashing a roiling, continuous blues – tonight ‘Hello Operator’ morphs into a cover of ‘St James Infirmary’ with a bit of ‘The Big Three Killed My Baby’ dropped in. Jack’s hands are a blur, coaxing demonic volumes from his guitars and organ. And after they stop, everything’s a blur: sweat-blind, tinnitus-tinged. If this is a night off, we fear for their public when they’re next actually [I]working[/I].

Kitty Empire