The White Stripes: Cannery Ballroom, Nashville, Friday May 18
Rude crowd chitter-chatter stops play as Jack and Meg step up to take over the world once more
For a good few years now Jack and Meg White have traversed the globe, channelling the spirits of John Bonham, Howlin’ Wolf and Dolly Parton into a two-strong maelstrom, teaching bands with considerably more members and considerably younger equipment how to astound in an arena, hitting their zenith on that Pyramid, where they marched on Glastonbury’s sacred ground and took 70,000 soggy disciples home in their pockets. Which is why, as the greatest live band on the planet make their return two years later, it’s a bit of a comedown to see the sound deteriorate so badly that half the crowd start chatting during the show.
Blasphemy! The God Of Gig will smite your unthankful heads for such indignation. Or rather, he just stops the song (a new one, ‘I’m Slowly Turning Into You’ admittedly) after the first verse. And this at a show that, despite only being announced two days ago, sold out in less than five minutes. Crowd etiquette and artiste petulance aside though, this ‘hometown’ Nashville return is the mighty Stripes boiled down and distilled to miracle tonic for those lucky enough to be here.
‘Do’ from the eponymous debut, ‘De Stijl’’s ‘Apple Blossom’ and ‘White Blood Cells’’ Zeus-flossing-with-a-G-string opener ‘Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground’ are the lucky few plucked from prepubescent Stripes, bubbling through a flask of tributes to their mingled heroes. Hank Williams, Dolly and Loretta Lynn all get a nod and a wink, and a respectful reinterpretation. ‘Jolene’ has been ripped off by everyone from Sisters Of Mercy to Olivia Newton-John, but there’s only one voice that can do justice to Parton’s paranoid and pained lyrics, and it’s currently riding the echo of a guitar across the plains and down the Mississippi, chased angrily by a cuckolded snare drum.
Hank Williams’ ‘Tennessee Border’, meanwhile, started proceedings – its borderline cynical relevance not lost on a local crowd, while a ground-up pinch of Lynn’s ‘Rated X’ boasts unfortunately off-key warbles from Meg.
Getting some words in edgeways among our history lesson of early White Stripes and earlier country are some choice cuts from new album ‘Icky Thump’: ‘A Martyr For My Love For You’ (slow, sublime – a masterclass in cracked vocal caterwauls), its thunderous titular track and ‘Effect And Cause’, a dark ditty so supreme even the security turn their backs on us to watch.
But this is the home of the Delta Blues, and it’s not long before we’re wandering into its melancholic heart, during a feral rehash of Son House’s doom-striken ‘Death Letter’, with its equally maudlin coda of ‘Motherless Children’. And it takes just three thumps of the bass drum on ‘Seven Nation Army’ to remind us that, while The Raconteurs (some of whom are here tonight) are fun, they’re the under-rehearsed understudy – the tribute act, the diluted Stripes. This is the real deal.
So the audience are discussing who’s driving home and the sound man is missing in action, but Jack cares not. He’s in his new spiritual home, he’s got five microphones at his disposal, he’s dressed his stage hands in fedoras and even made them dye their hair red. Shedding a layer of enigma skin, he’s gleefully taking photos of himself and Meg before throwing them into the now-newly-minted-if-they-sell-their-souls-to-eBay congregation. Rock’s dark master shaking it like a Polaroid? Jack’s back and he’s warming up for Glasto part two. Hushed silence awaits…