|Photo by Nigel Hutchings|
I must admit that I shuddered when I heard the word “minimalist” attached to the info about the act we were on our way to see in Austin last week. Way too often "minimalist" means a group of people, with no talent, who paint their nearly naked selves in wild colors, and play against the backdrop of a tarp - with a logo painted on it or a vocalist who breaks into tears from the sheer angst of the lyrics as the musicians ‘evoke form’ from the 3 strings left on their guitars.
White Stripes has made me rewrite that part of my personal dictionary.
The first few notes made me sit up, and the torrent that followed caught me up as it did the entire crowd. Jack Whites’ ability to coax notes from his guitar was astounding – I heard someone in the crowd ask the question that ran through my own head; “How many strings does he have on that thing- 10???? He sounds like an entire troop of guitars.” Perhaps it’s from knowing the blues, but this man knows his way around slide too. He also has the gift of not letting either his playing or his vocal work interfere with the other.
Watching him, you get the sensation that he is exerting just enough control of his voice to keep from blasting out the speakers. Not having been blessed to have seen or heard Hendrix live, I almost hesitate to draw the comparison, but hearing Jack White for the first time takes me back to the first time I came across Hendrix. When you lay this against the background of the rhythm laid out by Meg White it is truly stunning.
Ah yes…the drums. Hmm, it looks like a standard kit, not as visually impressive as some I have seen on stages over the years. And there is definitely no sign of the cord that seems to lead to the seamless connection between the two players on the stage allowing them to make their music flow like a panther in the jungle. I know what it is – Meg White is a damn fine drummer! It's as simple as that. She is as much a part of her instrument as Jack is to his. There is a primitive quality to her work that reaches into you and pulls your soul out to dance, jump, or simply quiver with the totality of the sound. I watched people of all ages blend together into an unbelievably happy smiling soundboard, amplifying and feeding the energy back to the stage.
I wondered what would happen when Meg came out from behind the drums and stepped up to the mike, but I was not disappointed. She seemed to approach it tentatively, but when she began to sing you felt like she was as comfortable as though she was just telling a few friends the story in her heart.
The staging for White Stripes is just the right backdrop for their performance. The crispness of the red and white on the drums and guitar matches the music perfectly in its appeal to that place inside us that responds to raw sound. Fans of the “I LIKE IT LOUD” style are not going to be disappointed here either.
White Stripes musical roots are evident in not only their stage presence but in the delivery of their music. Their passion calls to mind the best of the garage rock movement – a rawness, and deep belief in their music - not caring what anyone thinks. The same depth is shown with the bluesiness of their sound – it as though they have brought blues back, translated into modern language and made it capable of reaching the newcomers to the style without putting off those who have been appreciating it for the last few decades. There was a definite jazz sassiness to their performance – a swing that made you want to dance; and stick out your tongue at the poor devils out there who just don’t get it. Being a native Texan, I was also pleased to hear the almost bluegrass tones that run though as well. Is there any sort of music that they have not been able to appreciate, and incorporate into their unique sound?? I will have to keep listening to find out.
One other thing that needs mentioning is The White Stripes have probably the classiest, best dressed stage techs I have ever seen. Their suits carried the theme beautifully, and didn’t make the jarring note that is sometimes felt when tech help is needed onstage.
After seeing White Stripes I went online to see what I could find out about this amazing pair. I also checked with my 17 year old touchstone son for the word on White Stripes, and his response puzzled me. He said, "They were Beatles-ish, but that it was something that kids didn’t mind if their parents listened to with them." I assumed it was their look – now I know it is because they bring back a freedom that music had when Rock Was Young – a freedom that anyone can relate to. After checking into their history I was almost hurt by the fact that audiences from Europe, Australia, Canada and almost everywhere else had gotten to experience the sound of White Stripes and I hadn’t.
I also read that they do their best to avoid the hype that publicity can draw down onto them, so I don’t feel so bad about not having known about them before this show. I have tried very hard not to fall into “hype” as well, but Jack White and Meg White have a talent that almost makes it inevitable. Judging by the line of fans that was already waiting at 3 P.M. on a stickynastyhot Austin afternoon for the 7 P.M. show, White Stripes definitely has what it takes. So tell everyone you know about them – just please do it quietly – I’m busy listening.
Veronica Hutchings is a Contributing Writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.