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The White Stripes
93 Ft East, London

Yahoo Music

Jack White just doesn’t know what to do with himself. He whips off his red guitar, strides to the back of the stage and lays it down to rest. Then he takes a few paces forward, looks a little confused, and turns around and picks it back up again. What was he thinking? Did the man who addresses tonight’s adoring crowd in a high pitched, almost nervous voice, sticking to formalities so he always knows what to say, just have a crisis of confidence? Or is it all part of the show?

Whatever the truth, one thing is clear: The White Stripes don’t need to do this gig. They could sell out a venue ten times the size of 93 East, but this isn’t about career progression. It’s about taking a suddenly famous band back to its roots, returning to the “little room” that they eulogise in song and then only admitting three hundred people so everyone feels comfortable. And, of course, everyone wants into this suitably black and red club. A guy stands outside begging folk to sell him their ticket and even at the bar a bloke is asking if anyone has a spare for a friend.

The main attraction is a chance to see The White Stripes without any of the trappings of hype. There are no chattering casual observers here, just fans ready to soak up twenty songs in an hour and clamour for the same again. And Mr Jack White of Detroit (official title) totally blossoms once in his element. Three weeks previously at a curiosity club gig in Melbourne, he seemed surly, irritated almost, but tonight he really comes out of himself: bashing the chords from his guitar, pogoing to the beat, gibbering so much he practically loses sight of the lyrics.

This, you suspect, is the holy grail for The White Stripes. They crave not slick perfection, but rough edges and gaping holes. Several times, Jack lets the words slide into yabbered gibberish, either putting on a ridiculous comedy voice with a maniacal grin last seen on The Joker or ramming his tongue under his bottom lip like he’s mocking us all for being, durr, stupid. In any other case, you’d suspect the piss was being taken, but something makes you think it all boils down to deconstruction.

Pop has reached perfection. It’s been polished, refined, redefined and mass produced so heavily that it’s no longer possible to spot the seams, even though it’s all been manufactured. So it follows that, if you really love music, if you’re consumed by the romance and the passion, then the only way to honour it is to take it apart. Hence The White Stripes’ ragged cover of “Jolene”. This isn’t Whitney oversanitising “I Will Always Love You”. It’s red raw, the original emotive genius in pieces.

Also if you deconstruct life, then it’s possible to pare it down to its most basic moral code. And, rest assured, The White Stripes are an extremely moral group: Jack tonight rages against unseen foes who mistreat a female friend, worries about being gentlemanly, dreams of getting married. Something is either wrong or right. Black or white. And red for those moments of howling rage and despair when justice isn’t seen to be done. The same goes for the heart. It’s love or hate. Nothing else.

The highlights, then, are the songs that suit a colour. “Fell In Love With A Girl”: breezy, fun. “Lovesick”: a torrent of bile against love even though you know he’s captured by it. “You’re Pretty Good Looking”: the knowing smirk that can only come with familiarity, intimacy. “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”: Dusty unravelled. “We’re Going To Be Friends”: the white of love, turned pure. And it goes on and on until all there’s left to do is deliver a post-gig mortem. Two male friends are impressed by Jack’s intricate guitar playing. Two female strangers enthuse about how “fit” the singer is. Black. Red. Me? I just like the tunes.

Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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