Music reviews

White Stripes: Duo with power of 5; Band’s first Miss. show delivers rock ecstasy

Jack White was spitting and sweating, his left hand sliding up and down the neck of his acoustic-electric guitar, his fingers possessed by rock and roll demons guiding him through the bars of Son House’s “Death Letter.”

He had already broken a string and he didn’t care.

The 10,000 people packed into the Snowden Grove Amphitheater in Southaven Tuesday night to see the White Stripes were swaying, bouncing, singing and passing things — cameras, flasks, smokable items – their hands in the air, shredding invisible guitars and pounding invisible drums. They were an ecstatic group – one whipped into a frenzy by the once-married duo from Detroit on their quest to play a show in every state they had yet to visit before this tour. Mississippi? Check.

As Jack and Meg jammed under simple red-and-white lights on their all-red stage, I couldn’t help noticing the love the blues-inspired garage rock elicited from the crowd. People were smiling and hugging and apologizing when they stepped on toes. They seemed happy. Way happier than most people at most rock shows. A lady to the left of me played a game of butt-bump with my friend even though she didn’t know him, and as she passed by me she gave me a big hug and smooch on the cheek.

Although the show in the crowd was fully entertaining, the bigger show on stage was a color-coordinated rock spectacle exploding and pounding its way through every skull in the place. There were two people up there making the kind of noise you’d expect from a five-piece rock band. The whole spectacle felt a little bigger than itself.

Somewhat surprisingly, the band spent most of its time playing older songs — “Let’s Build a Home, ” “Hotel Yorba, ” “Stop Breaking Down” and at least a dozen more — instead of tracks from Icky Thump, released in June. But the rendition of the title track from the new album was fierce; the distortion and the drumbeats heavy, as Jack spat out the sarcastic lyrics. Until the encore, the only other track from the new album that appeared was “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told).”

It wasn’t until eight or nine songs in that Jack addressed the crowd. It made sense, though, that he would wait so long to mumble a salutation; when you’re busy rocking out and melting the walls with your sonic output, there’s no reason to stop the momentum to chat.

The band had a few surprises: “I Want to Be the Boy, ” the sweet love song from 2003’s Elephant, took on a darker feel with Jack White’s sinister organ work as a backdrop. “Ugly as I Seem” cropped up in the middle of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” “Astro, ” from 1999’s self-titled debut, was stripped and slowed down, and given a bit of a swing beat. And Jack ducked into the shadows so Meg could take the mic and sing “In the Cold Cold Night.” She looked a bit embarrassed to be on stage, even behind her drum kit — which she completely owns, by the way — but when she took to the mic, she seemed positively mortified. She shut her eyes and gripped the thing and barely moved. And the crowd went wild.

The concert’s running time seemed a little short, however, an hour plus a 15-minute encore, which included two other tracks from the new album, and the band’s cover of Leadbelly’s “De Ballet of De Boll Weevil.” The show offered no major surprises (does a faulty mic stand count?) or outrageous antics that made you shriek because you just witnessed a moment that’s destined to become rock trivia. What we had was just straightforward rock and roll — face-melting, heart-pounding rock and roll pumped out by the loudest two people you’re ever likely to hear.

And I don’t think the people of Mississippi — or Memphis and the Mid-South — could have been happier.

published August 2, 2007, in The Commercial Appeal

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