Live Review: The White Stripes, The Rave, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 8, 2005
by matthew webber
Note: This article was originally published in the Waukesha Freeman
No matter your take on the White Stripes formula - three colors, two members, a dubious claim of being brother and sister when they're really a divorced couple - watching them play for nearly two hours should render any accusations of inauthenticity moot.
After all, the fans who screamed for every Jack White guitar solo, every Meg White cymbal crash and every familiar singalong chorus didn't care to debate whether their favorite band is a gimmick.
Thursday night at the Rave, they only cared that their heroes were loud enough to cause temporary inner-ear damage. Both members of the White Stripes owned the audience from the moment they took the stage to the last burst of feedback some couple dozen songs later.
Tearing through blues covers, their own modern-rock hits and about half of their latest album, Get Behind Me Satan, without a bassist or any other musicians, Jack and Meg somehow managed to fill every last space in the concert hall and in their songs with little more than their nontraditional instrumentation and their obvious passion for the material.
Wearing their expected red, white and black ensembles, the Detroit-based garage rockers made more noise than bands double their size. As Meg thwacked away on her heavily-miked drum kit, Jack switched from guitar to organ to marimba and back, sometimes even within the same song.
While Jack's howling wolf call of a voice typically cut through the mix, Meg took her low-key and (charmingly off-key) turn at the mic on "In the Cold, Cold Night" and "Passive Manipulation" (two times, for some reason, both while playing timpani) to some of the largest cheers of the night.
Whether it's a gimmick or not, the White Stripes understand the importance of presentation, which for them does not mean pyro. With his gunslinger mustache, stovepipe hat and skin-tight red shirt, Jack looks the part of a devil-indebted bluesman.
But this showmanship would be irrelevant if the band's rock songs didn't rock. For the fans risking hoarse voices to shout the chorus of the night's final song, "Boll Weevil," back to the band, they couldn't have rocked any more.
Elsewhere in the set list, the drum line for "My Doorbell" carried the song as much as Jack's melody line, and the ominous fuzz tones of "Seven Nation Army" threatened to drown out Meg's thrashing. A cover of Burt Bacharach's "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" sounded more tortured than what was hinted at in the lyrics.
As much as the most fawning members of the critical community believe the White Stripes are one of the most vital acts of the moment, Jack and his "big sister" Meg believe in themselves.
Their sweaty hair whipping around their faces, they often performed just a few feet from each other, playing for each other's satisfaction as much as for their fans'.
When the pair locked eyes like the former lovers they are, their intimacy became the only thing more noticeable than their dangerous decibel levels.
Afterwards, this critic didn't hear anyone debating the concert. The acclaim was universal.
E-mail the author at mattwebber at gmail dot com. For more writings and other information, visit www.matthewwebber.net.