Album Review: The White Stripes – ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ (Third Man/XL)

Album Review: The White Stripes - 'Under Great White Northern Lights' (Third Man/XL)


The duo's new DVD and live album makes you realise how much you miss them

As (mostly) fun as [a]The Raconteurs[/a] and [a]The Dead Weather[/a] have been, boy does this little DVD/Live album package makes you miss [a]The White Stripes[/a] something rotten. The beautifully shot doc follows the band’s 2007 Canadian tour, and it’s a reminder that while [b]Jack White[/b] may enjoy his less pressurised roles in his other bands, he’s a shadow of the rock star that’s unleashed when it’s just him and [b]Meg[/b]. The first piece of concert footage is a thunderous version of first single [b]‘Let’s Shake Hands’[/b], and as Meg plays one-handed with Jack whirling wildly in front of her, it all comes flooding back: they’re the most violent, sexiest live band of our times.

The melding of [b]Led Zep[/b] rock glamour and the rough-and-ready spirit of the blues is, of course, at the heart of the band, and the film contrasts the full-colour theatre shows with black-and-white footage of them playing bizarre impromptu free gigs. All the best moments come from this stuff, as Jack and Meg play to passengers on a bus in Winnipeg, rock out on the back of a fishing boat on a river and do a gig in a bowling alley during which Jack pauses in the middle of one song to bowl a ball (he scores eight).

However, the real draw for fans will be the intimate glimpses of Jack and Meg’s relationship. There’s a minor tiff about one show (Jack: [i]“We were changing tempo three times a song.”[/i] Meg, ever stoic: [i]“It felt about right to me.”[/i]) and much to be read into their body language and teasing little ways. Despite the fact they once shared a marital bed, that whole sibling shtick actually seems emotionally truthful. Jack really is a playful younger brother with her, forever mocking her silent reserve. Meg is very much the amused, bemused, older sister – [i]“I’m quiet, what can I say?”[/i] – and the film plays around with her Sphinx-like image by subtitling her few words. Jack’s incredibly protective of her, but also obviously reliant upon her elusiveness, not just as an onstage anchor for him, but also as a stimulus for his creative spirit. There’s one moment backstage when Jack’s bashing away at a piano while Meg smokes contentedly on a couch nearby; a perfect snapshot of artist and muse.

Of course, knowing that the band ceased all activity shortly after this due to Meg’s “acute anxiety” gives the whole thing a compelling subtext. Her genial silences seem suddenly sad, Jack’s fevered performances desperate, their arm-in-arm walks together poignant. The film closes with the image of Meg sobbing in Jack’s arms after he’s played her [b]‘White Moon’[/b] on the piano.

The live album is built from tracks taken from different shows so doesn’t show off the improvisatory nature of their setlist-free shows, but again, it’s a reminder that their three-year absence is a bit of a tragedy. Let’s have that comeback this year please, ol’ Meg.

[b]Martin Robinson[/b]

[i]What do you think of the DVD and live album? Let us know by posting a comment below.[/i]

Click here to get your copy of The White Stripes’ ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ from the Rough Trade shop