The White Stripes
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Usually when I see The White Stripes, I come away stunned. The view over droves of festival-beaten bodies stood ankle deep in dirt is one that makes you work for every kick. Every inane grin earned on determined tiptoe could just have easily been lost behind a tossed head, or to a rib-crushing crowd surge. A lot of the time all you can see are shadow-puppets playing out giant-sized blues’n’roll on the rear wall of the main stage; while their anchors do battle somewhere below. Invariably, when I remember what went on in my head later, it’s always pitched in darkness (true) and raining (false). Whatever, objective truth doesn’t seem to matter so much with the Whites. Onstage, the girl just sits and smiles ‘cos she knows that she’s his most vital organ. The boy thrashes his guitar like he just fell from some mighty storm cloud and got impaled on the tallest lightning rod in all of Gotham City.
There is a different atmosphere here tonight, though. The surroundings of Alexandra Palace are grandiose to an extent that any danger dwelling in those late summer nights is lost to its reaching walls and bowed ceilings. There is a feeling that we are guests at another carnival altogether; trading in dark pagan rituals for a rosy cheeked, Christmastime ‘Audience With...’ The motley band of aides that accompany this travelling circus have dressed to suit the occasion; an army of red-riding-hoods armed with free CD’s foist product on us and a road crew sporting stage-hand garb from the Old Deep South will clean up after Jack come showtime. In the peculiar context of the situation, I’m half disappointed to see that this crew isn’t made up of Lord Lucan or those lost from the decks of the Mary Celeste.
When the ringleader transpires about ten rows before us, he and Meg proceed to tear through a set that draws roundly from all five albums; ‘Black Math’ still sounds surprisingly fresh, ‘St. John Infirmary Blues’ similarly so. Favourites like ‘Hotel Yorba’ and ‘Fell in Love With a Girl’ go down predictably well with a crowd which (admittedly shallow) impressions dictate only picked up on the band with the release of the third, maybe even fourth album. But while songs like ‘The Union Forever’ and ‘I Think I Smell a Rat’ do excite, they never bring Jack near to the kind of rapture that others like ‘Screwdriver’ and ‘Ball and Biscuit’, (dropped from tonight’s playlist), do; instead it is the likes of ‘The Nurse’ and ‘My Doorbell’ that epitomise the evening. Piano-led falsetto wins out over squalling guitars, mainly because the Alexandra Palace is so damn comfortable.
Yes, there are people bowling past me, but this feels out of sync with surroundings enough for me to vengefully deal out a few blows beneath the ribs; something I’d never normally do in a festival crowd. My view is perfect and Jack and Meg are in my sights the whole time. When they return to play an encore that pushes the half hour mark it is the perfect end to a perfect gig; in the objective sense of the word. Oh, wait a second…? The cold, hard truth is that rather than leaving me stunned, tonight leaves me smiling. And in this luxurious setting it would be ungracious of me to complain.
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