After seeing The White Stripes kick off their fall leg here in Milwaukee last Thursday, I find it deeply disturbing that more people don’t know about this band. It’s a goddamn shame – because Jack White may just be the best thing to happen to rock and roll in a long time. He isn’t the Next Big Thing in the sense of what magazines like Spin
and Rolling Stone
predict: He has the potential to be It – to be an artist that becomes a legend.
It isn’t just because he writes great songs that span genres, or because he plays a mean electric guitar – it’s much more. Seeing him on stage for the first time showed me that Jack White has that certain electric performance, that boundless stage energy and constant flow of music that makes mere musicians into stars. I almost felt bad for his counterpart, Meg White, whose ineffectual place as drummer and occasional backup vocals can’t steal audiences’ eyes from Jack.
One moment, he’s cradling the mike, black hat tipped low to croon “Forever for Her” – the ballad from the band’s most recent release “Get Behind me Satan.” The next he’s on the piano, playing the upbeat, almost bluegrass singalong single “My Doorbell” (which the audience - including me - went nuts for). He tears the hell out of the guitar solos in the blues-rock “Ball and Biscuit”, then turns around for expert turns on the
marimba (on “The Nurse”) and mandolin (“Little Ghost”). He’s all at one Jimmy Page on the guitar and Robert Plant on vocals (particularly in new Zeppelin-esque tune “Red Rain”).
But that’s not to say one White is complete without the other. As simple as Meg’s drumming can be, she’s supplying the hard and fast backbeat that is the foundation for Jack’s stunning riffs – and she happened to sing a good piece or two. She may be the Ringo of the two, but it’s her added vocals, especially, that add to the Stripes’ unidentifiable sound. From the foot-stomping classic “Hotel Yorba” to the subtle sexiness of “In the Cold, Cold Night”, Meg too proved her worth in a live show alongside ambiguous singing partner Jack.
Hearing them fly thorough their incredibly deep repertoire, I couldn’t help but marvel…and wonder why they’re still playing small venues. It appalls me that the show at Milwaukee’s Rave/Eagles Club wasn’t sold out. Somehow, a milquetoast band like Coldplay can sell out an amphitheater or large arena but the Stripes are still largely unknown to the non-alternative rock world. I realize that they intentionally keep a low profile to keep their indie cred for the ever-judgmental hipsters, but how is it that people who love classic rock or blues have not yet found this band? What will it take? One more big album to open to critical acclaim? Another big single a la “Seven Nation Army”(which, for the record, rocked the house live)?
I certainly hope there’s a corner ahead to turn for The White Stripes before something bad happens. Call me superstitious, but it’s always the musical geniuses that have unexpectedly abrupt careers. I think the best of this band is yet to come…and I hope they are alive and together long enough to make it big – not “sel out” big – but big enough that even the uneducated and unwashed can hear the best modern rock has to offer.