Review: Bad Case of Stripes: Jack and Meg Haunt Alabama’s Sloss Furnaces* - U2 Feedback

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Old 08-01-2007, 02:13 PM   #1
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Review: Bad Case of Stripes: Jack and Meg Haunt Alabama’s Sloss Furnaces*


By Andy Smith, Editor

Whoever conjured the notion that Alabama’s Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham would provide a weirdly wonderful venue for a rock show surely shares a lowdown logic of rustic ambiance with Jack and Meg White. The allegedly haunted site of the former blast furnace feels more like the abandoned post-industrial ruins of Detroit than a southern museum devoted to chronicling industrial progress; thus, it’s an alarmingly perfect place for a White Stripes show.

Being a general admission show, the kids line-up for hours before the gates open just to wait for the best place to stand. Walking that line to find the will-call booth, I admired all the creative combinations of black and red that adorn the devoted. At the Sloss, the gigs take place in a long warehouse or hanger-like rectangle with a slanted cement-floor and open air walls. Although the capacity crowd really had to cram into the place, the angle of the floor gave the majority a really respectable sightline, which is way more than we can say for all unseated shows.

Photo: Michael McPherson

While far from the nexus of any actual smelter, the sweltering temperature up close on the mainfloor Monday night might have made a metallurgical mess of us. But most rock fans have this superhuman stamina for tolerating all forms of minor discomfort. No proximity to intoxicated delirium and neighborly body odor would have kept us from the major sonic mojo proffered by the priestly siblings and proper heirs to the power of power chords and formidable rock fashion sense.

After a short and stunning set by Birmingham’s own Dan Sartain (who did several Stripes’ shows on this leg of the tour), the masses who weren’t still pushing towards the front instead swarmed the beer tents, visited the porta-potties, or just left the sweat-lodge like conditions for a moment under the full-moon sky. Back inside, the black curtain had been lifted to reveal the red architecture of the Stripes striking stage-set. Just past 9:15pm, with the tense anticipation as thick as the sweat in the air, the darkness of house-lights dimming descended on us just in time.

While recent studio offerings have included much experimentation with different instrumentation, the White Stripes onstage are nothing but the basics—barren blues rock that eschews the need for bass and skewers us with something much more base. Driven to the back alley of love’s tortured soul by the pounding prurience of Meg’s drumming, Jack carjacks the juju of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page and feeds it to us straight like a fiery shot of Tennessee moonshine.

Photo: Michael McPherson

Spontaneity and simplicity define the Stripes like a near-death experience and the humble reckoning to follow. Sure, the Stripes set is filled with stalwarts and sing-a-longs such as “Hotel Yorba” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” but playing without a setlist and communicating with Meg through eye-contact and chemistry, Jack jettisons the expectations we have for a man of his rockstar stature and keeps it catastrophically real. To decorate this primal moan with anything more would only tarnish the tempestuous minimalism the twosome throws down.

Who else at this level of career and calling could still pull it off? While this carefully careless approach still centered around the scorching certainty of crowd-pleasers from the current record, it also gave us such surprises as the Dylan cover “One More Cup of Coffee” that appeared on the band’s debut record.

But such primacy is not without its own brand of pretense, artifice, and superstition. A lack of technological geekery and sophisticated studio-born calculation in so many musical matters does not deny an otherwise other-wordly and obsessive commitment to image and craft. Certainly, the critical challenge here is to make some sensible assessment of that paradox without pandering to abstractions like mysterious, metaphysical, and mythopoetic—and all the high-falutin’ theories that our brains assign to the feelings a band like this gives us in the balls (or ovaries, as the case may be).

To fully feel a show “down there,” to momentarily forget how many dollars you don’t have in the bank account, to skip away from work and family and spend a day in the car or on a Greyhound bus, to meet random people on the band’s message boards and then in the hotel elevator, to do all of these things in the pursuit of a religious awareness offered only by live rock and roll describes fandom’s devotion. Such a common communal calling touches all of us, as Jack might sing: “From the Queen of England to the hounds of hell.”

Photo: Arik Sokol

On Monday, the adamantly apolitical Jack White addressed the crowd after cutting “Seven Nation Army” short. Lest the righteous and violent rigor of the lyrics be misinterpreted as condoning an unrighteous war, White declared, “I don’t know if we should play this song in America anymore.” This curt charge challenges his own acute allergy to politicizing rock.

Since so much ballyhoo has been made about the verse in “Icky Thump” that ignites an anti-anti-immigration mood, White has chosen to distance himself from any clear-cut political code aside from his general consciousness that endorses the unsung and underdog in art as in life.

In a recent interview with Barry Divola over at Pitchfork, White described the song as dealing in the “timeless ridiculousness about one group of people excluding another group of people” but not being a “protest song” per se. White continued to delineate his aversion to message music, “I try to stay away from that stuff because I think it's best left to people who know more about politics to talk about it. It's not my specialty. I don't read the newspaper every day. I don't watch CNN all day long, so there are a lot more people who do their research and can back up what they have to say.”

With Jack White, I share some Cass Corridor connections, a Tennessee current address, and a love for red and black attire. But my fandom for this group came late. Having left Motown before they hit, I was preoccupied with family things when the buzz became ubiquitous. When I finally got it, I could hear the rugged riffs pulsing through my memories. I could hear the twisted heartbreak and universal poetry that would make this garage gargantuan. Even at home in the south, my Detroit recall will always make me want to sing the blues. The Stripes strip away the past and purify the future without forgetting the legacy of the Stooges and the MC5 and everything grueling and great about home that haunted me, that made me proud of my former fanzines and downtown zipcode.

Everywhere they tour, the young kids and the old-schoolers know. We are slowly turning onto them. We are always tuning into them. We are slowly turning into hardcore fans whose depleted bank balances will be martyrs for our love for them.

The White Stripes sixth studio album Icky Thump was released on Warner Brothers Records on June 19, 2007. The band’s official homepage is Andy would also like to recommend the band’s fansite and forum at .
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