Performing Arts Center(Providence, RI)
The White Stripes
September 19, 2005
White Stripes guitarist/lead singer Jack White has said it's ignorant to think that because a performer is bereft of style, their music is more valid than a musician with style. With their artsy music videos and White's dramatic vocals, it shouldn't be that much of a surprise The White Stripes show at the Providence Performing Arts Center Monday night was smothered in theatrics. The stage backdrop was a piece of art unto itself. The apple in the middle of the hanging cloth radiated light like a saint's head. Beneath it was a sea of black surrounded by white palm trees. The White Stripes exclusive black, red, and white color combo was in full effect. The electrical cords were color coordinated, and the roadies wore all black. The main one wore a tophat and looked like a hip undertaker. Jack and sister/drummer(though really ex-wife) Meg wore black, white, and red only, and the musical instruments were painted red. The instrument list was four guitars, three amplifiers, a piano, an electric keyboard, a vibraphone and a mandolin for Jack, while drums, kettle drums, hand percussion and chimes were set up for Meg. Even before the concert started, it was obvious the show was gonna be a production.
The inside of the performing arts center jived with the band's sensibility. It was ornate and majestic, and much of it was gold-colored. Like a Catholic church.
The lights went down, and the cheers went up from the crowd. Nothing emerged onstage, and after it took the band a little too long to walk out, they were spotted walking down the middle aisle from the back. A man who turned out to be Jack twirled a cane and wore a straw hat. Meg went on without Jack, who stopped by the front of the stage and sat down at a Wurlitzer organ. Since Jack was still at ground level, only those close to the organ saw what happened next. Jack played a haunting version of "St. James Infirmary Blues." His warbled voice, as it was the rest of the night, wrangled and distorted notes for full emotional impact.
When the song was over, Jack joined Meg onstage, and that's when everyone saw his face for the first time. His face and neck were painted white, with black teeth painted around his mouth. The modern myth-maker, who's a follower of Dylan's myth-making capabilities, looked pretty damn cool.
They burst into "Blue Orchid." Meg is a solid and effective drummer whose arm sweeps are fun to watch, and she always has a cooler-than-thou, detached look on her face, but from the first note of "Orchid," Jack took the spotlight and never looked back. He stutter-stepped around the stage, skidded and slid. He contorted his body around his guitar as if he had no choice, and his straw hat fell off twice because of his headbanging. The White Stripes played passionate, feedback-sprinkled rock n' roll. Pounding metal, bittersweet country, snarling blues, and twee pop. It was all there. The twee pop, especially, when Meg pounded the timpanis during the sweet admonition, "Passive Manipulation."
The band is known for playing unpredictable medleys, but on this night, they were especially sloppy and loose. Jack extended a song without notice and signaled changes by staring at Meg and swinging his guitar down. The duo's songs, with all their strange meters and structures, are a little complicated(they're no Fantomas, though). So, I wasn't surprised when Jack missed a couple musical cues. It was almost OK. Like, "You're Jack White, one of the best guitarists alive. You can do whatever you want." Because, with Meg tentatively on his tail, he always circled back to where he was supposed to have been. It was only when Jack missed a lyrical cue that I thought, "What is going on? Is he high?" I think I figured out what was going on. From the get-go, the crowd wasn't very responsive to the less popular songs. Sure, they lit up during "Blue Orchid" and "Seven Nation Army," but between that, they were kinda dead. The $40 ticket price wasn't too high for the non-fans, apparently.
At one point, Jack said, "Meg, they are standing still like they've seen a ghost." At the end of the next song, when the applause was less than rapturous, he was sarcastic and said, "Oh, don't cheer too loudly." In another instance, Jack said, "Are we all standing perfectly still?" Needless to say, only a small group of people were rocking out. Everyone else was a little too polite. Pissed, Jack left the stage three times, and The White Stripes left the stage for twenty minutes after song #11, "The Nurse." This song was the most fun to watch. Jack was on the vibraphone, and he had to cue guitar feedback by pushing a pedal with his foot. The White Stripes played for only sixty-eight minutes. Because they normally play longer sets, I think the crowd had something to do with it. The band's tense relationship with the crowd created a fun, dangerous atmosphere. Jack White said this about performing live during a whitestripes.net online interview:
"I suppose there are a lot of different reasons why I might do something live. I don't like to talk much at shows because dead air worries me. It makes me feel as if I'm not giving enough, or not pushing myself, and I never like seeing a band and hearing the bass player telling knock knock jokes. So i suppose dead air may provoke me to do something "off the top of my head." I don't like to feel comfortable on stage--that makes me feel like i'm phoning it in and not getting anywhere with what i'm doing. Meg and I don't really ever rehearse for this reason."
When the band WAS onstage, their songs were electric, even if not the most technically astute. The sexual tension between Jack and Meg was awesome, and Jack exuded pure sexuality when he played "Ball and Biscuit" with tremendous confidence. He made it look easy.
The White Stripes played familiar originals like "Hardest Button to Button," "When I Hear My Name," and "Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground," but they played many covers. Seems like since the audience was being indifferent, the band was trying to push indifference into hate. Their new single, "Doorbell," wasn't played, and they turned "Fell in Love With a Girl" into a slower piano ballad.
At the end of night, Jack went over to the side of the stage where he was gettting his guitars, got a gun, and aimed it at Meg. He shot...and then a flag came out that said BANG! Just like the Joker's gun in Batman. Jack put his arm around Meg and said, "My sister and I thank you." They bowed, and then they left.
A short White Stripes concert is still worth it. I recommend them. Let's just hope you get a better crowd and band attitude when you see them.
1. St. James Infirmary Blues
2. Blue Orchid
3. When I Hear My Name
4. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
5. Passive Manipulation
7. Death Letter
8. Apple Blossom
9. Look Me Over Closely
10. Cannon/John the Revelator
11. The Nurse
12. Let's Shake Hands
13. Ball and Biscuit
14. The Hardest Button to Button
15. Fell in Love With A Girl
16. Little Ghost
17. Red Rain
18. Sugar Never Tasted So Good
19. Seven Nation Army