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Red, white, and the blues

The sight of the Opera House stage before the headlining White Stripes went on a week ago Wednesday — the second of three sold-out shows — was impressive. Among the expected old amps and guitars, and Meg’s gleaming, fire-engine-red drum kit, there were a pair of giant timpani and an even bigger marimba. Of course, those two additions to the White Stripes' arsenal were also color-coordinated (red, white, and black are the White Stripes’ colors), as was a gorgeous (black) Steinway grand. No matter. Jack and Meg White, who have become the kind of platinum-rock act who can afford big things like a red marimba, and little gestures like bringing along their friends the Greenhornes, M. Ward, and Brendan Benson to open various tour nights (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, respectively), were the same old Jack and Meg who, just a few years ago, played clubs like the Middle East.

And, for the most part, they haven’t changed their bare-boned musical approach to raw, garage-rock-fueled blooze, tempered now by the occasional piano ballad or, as on their new Get Behind Me Satan (V2), by the ring of a marimba or the set of color-coded bells Meg had at the Opera House. I heard a few people complain about the "sound," as if somehow the Opera House acoustics weren’t doing justice to Meg’s simple, pounding drum beats and Jack’s searing slide guitar. Maybe that was the problem, but not in the traditional sense. The duo’s sound has evolved away from Led Zep guitar riffery and more toward rural-juke-joint blues. That sort of sweat-and-blood music can’t help but seem out of place in an Opera House. The Whites’ early cover of Dolly Parton’s "Jolene" came off fine, as did the marimba-based "The Nurse," during which Jack used a pedal to trigger noisy bursts of guitar chords in sync with Meg’s cymbal crashes. "My Doorbell" — with its Ray Charles soul singing, swinging groove, and arrangement during which Jack made a quick switch from piano to slide guitar — showed how far the Stripes have come musically, even if, at heart, Jack’s songs are as primal as his color scheme is primary.


Issue Date: September 30 - October 6, 2005
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