He’s the don of Detroit, the God of garage, the man reclaiming rock’n’roll from false-hearted cheats and whining, hollow charlatans. An all-singing, guitar-toting bolt of raging fire and restless electricity (not to mention an audacious slab of talent), Jack White and his drumming sister/wife Meg (still not sure ourselves) tear apart the hype and expectation surrounding what is arguably the hottest ‘underground’ rock band in the States right now - the band the Americans are creaming over while Britain raves about the Strokes - with the grimiest garage noise, the sweetest pop knack, the purest ‘soul’ music. If this is deliverance, we should all be true believers.
Like the White Stripes themselves, let’s cut straight to the fucking bone here: tonight, we saw rock’n’roll born again, stripped back to its barest elements, dipped in dirt and sex and explosive passion, and sent reeling into the future. Without any of the tacky technology and zeitgeist-desperation that too often seems to prove that rock is, indeed, dead. No; to save rock’n’roll, The White Stripes went back to the roots.
Nothing unique there, of course; The Strokes’ fetishisation of 70s NYC punk is just evidence of their impeccable taste (just as their beautiful rock’n’roll, equalling its sources, proves their brilliance). But The White Stripes are different. Like the garage bands swarming about their hometown (The Dirtbombs, The Von Bondies, The Paybacks - check the recent Jack White-produced Sympathetic Sounds Of Detroit album for evidence) they’re not slaves to history; they use it as a catalyst, a guide to the future.
Tonight, in many ways, is like the destruction of years of culture Alec Empire promised, only Jack White just burns away the reams of unnecessary history that chain rock’n’roll in the past, reclaiming the culture itself. Their cover of an ancient Son House blues tune, ‘Death Letter’, feels so alive, so contemporary, because Jack plays it straight and raw, the searing slide-guitar riff budgeoning the crowd like the full-on assault of At The Drive-In. A blues that could well and truly fuck Eric Clapton’s shit up.
For onstage charisma, and outrageously-apparent talent, Jack White recalls the Jeff Buckley of his fabled early London shows. He’s not yet swaggering (he’s wordless between the songs all night), but there’s an audacity to the way he tears between his two mics while slamming all manner of gorgeous, chaotic noise from his guitar on ‘Hello Operator’, and a confidence in the way he delivers the sweet ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ so unironically. Anything’s possible, reads the subtext. Everything’s within Jack White’s grasp.
And if you’re thinking The White Stripes to be all flash and no substance, there’s a churning, revolutionary ire burning throughout. Jack writes some of the starkest, most truthful love songs - the chilling ‘Truth Doesn’t Make A Noise’, or the bittersweet ‘Apple Blossom’ - but there’s a fury that flows through his ‘protest’ songs striking deeper than a million manifesto-proferring indie-rock whelps. When White snarls “Well I’m sorry, I’m not interested in gold mines” in ‘The Union Forever’, his righteousness is unimpeachable, intoxicating. And the vitriolic, baroque ‘I Smell A Rat’ is a nailbomb of palpable disgust, an anthem for the marginalised.
From a derelict corner of the USA this stunning resurrection of rock’n’roll is surging. Colossal, bone-simple riffage and similarly uncluttered pop songs, The White Stripes’ reclamation of rock’n’roll’s vital essence, their stripping away of its fatal clutter, their utter intolerance for any kind of bullshit, is nothing short of a punk-rock miracle. Ask Jack White and he’ll bashfully deny that he’s the future of rock’n’roll.
Go make a liar of him.
(c) Stevie Chick 2001