Live Music + Gig Reviews

The White Stripes @ Alexandra Palace, London

21 January 2004

The White Stripes

The White Stripes

I had waited a very long time to see The White Stripes. I lost tickets for their last tour of the UK, booked Reading only for a certain broken digit to scupper that event, and I was sure that the recent fisticuffs with a certain Jason Stollsteimer from The Von Bondies would have rendered Jack White bound to the US legal system. Having heard that not only had the brother and sister / former husband and wife (ah, whatever) arrived in the UK and that they had started their tour with customary aplomb, I was expecting some sort of train derailment on the way to Alexandra Palace for the second of their two nights there.

Yet, sure enough on stage they come, two people in the cavernous great hall of the venue with possibly the least atmosphere in London, nay the country. However The White Stripes could play Table Mountain and do it justice, such is the incredible virtuoso presence of their enigmatic frontman.

It has been well documented that Jack White writes as a release from the restraint of not touching alcohol, drugs, girls etc. He even purports to a reluctance in appreciating that others take so much from his music. Tonight, however, he seems to be loving it. Grinning as he sings the beautifully simple We’re Going To Be Friends, he asks for the audience to affirm the title of the song to a raucous response, and he even leads the gathered thousands in singing back to him in the encore tune of Boll Weevil.

However it is the raw power of this act that really astonishes. Jack’s blues voice has such range that it reminds one of Robert Plant in full throttle, while his guitar work is truly awe-inspiring. Black Math, a stand out track from the seminal album Elephant, is stunning but this is bettered by a jaw-dropping version of Jolene with White racing from one mic to another. Meg’s drums enter into regular conversation with the guitar’s riffs and wails, pausing only when she comes to the front of the stage for a cute In The Cold, Cold Night.

Seven Nation Army has been covered by Audioslave, BRMC, Basement Jaxx and has even found it’s way onto the dance floors of Ibiza. Live, it is no let down, although it is preceded by the rip-snorting Hotel Yorba which almost steals its thunder.

Ball and Biscuit is delivered with searing solos redolent of Jimi Hendrix, each of which receive whoops of joy form the crowd. The Whites leave to the distorted glory of Screwdriver and return for the encore with the last single, The Hardest Button To Button, and I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself before a sing-along ending.

All the way through this most minimal yet assaulting of gigs you have to keep reminding yourself that the raw wall of sound pummelling your ears is made by just two people. Maybe the projected shadows of both Whites on the walls of the venue were to give them company. A truly inspirational performance and I reckon that maybe, just maybe, Jack is beginning to enjoy himself.

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