The Adventures of
Captain Zero
and his trusty sidekick Numba Wan
Posted Monday, September 29, 2003
The White Stripes
Friday, 19 September 2003 - Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, Colorado

At this year’s Lollapalooza, Audioslave did just about the last thing I expected of them when they launched into a cover of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. Yes, it’s a killer tune, but Chris Cornell covering Jack White? Who’d a thunk it? To cover a song is to celebrate it, and to cover a contemporary is a deep sign of respect from one artist to another. It says to the fans, I like this tune enough that I’m going to play it for you now, instead of all the other songs in my back catalogue that you know and love. That was the first time I realized Jack White might be more influential than I previously thought. He does seem to have created a successful brand out of little more than an honest devotion to old style bluesy rock, some strategic media manipulation, and a unique color scheme. There are legions of marketing interns in the basements of major record companies who are even now melting down White Stripes albums in a vain attempt to distill the secret ingredient of success from them. But that kind of success can only come from the inexplicable reaches of the soul and to see it resonate with a live audience is a beautiful thing to behold.

True to form, as soon as we stepped into the Fillmore that Friday night we encountered Lono, recovering from knee surgery, hobbling out for a smoke with his bride. Due to his injuries they had handicap seats with a choice view close up on the left of the stage. We moved into the crowd in front of them and had a pretty good view ourselves.

Jack White has good taste in openers. The Soledad Brothers had a good combination of blues and groove that built anticipation for the main act, as any decent warm up band should. As the best dressed roadies in the business set up for the White Stripes, vintage Betty Boop cartoons entertained the masses. By this point I had a good start on a strong Long Island Iced Tea and was enjoying watching all the people. They were generally young and good looking, trendy but not unfriendly. That drink put me in a good mood but also had me in the pisser when the White Stripes ascended the stage. Numba Wan reports that the entrance was anticlimactic and somehow Jack ended up knocking over one of Meg’s snare drums. Dammit, I wish I had seen that.

They opened with Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground and had the crowd jumping right away. A few songs later Hotel Yorba was even better. With just the two of them onstage, Jack and Meg White are fascinating to watch. Jack White had a black shirt and tight stretchy pants with one leg red and the other leg black. His dark hair partially obscured his pale face down to his chin. He would sing into the microphone up front, then step back and sync up with Meg where he had another microphone, all the while filling the auditorium with the sound of his glorious guitar. Meg would lean back with her left arm on the stool, looking at once spent but still persisting one-armed against the drums. She looked vulnerable, but sultry and suggestive, one of the sexiest women in rock today. She stepped up to the main mic for In The Cold Cold Night, and then even played the organ solo in the middle. I was a little doubtful they’d be able to do it but they rocked the sold-out Fillmore. The crowd was definitely into it. There was a fellow nearby who was jumping around very fanatically and perhaps he was involved in the fight that broke out just as we started out of the packed crowd for a bathroom trip. We split wanting nothing to do with that and wandered the cavernous hall for the rest of the show. I didn’t recognize half the songs, but as Numba Wan pointed out, they’re all pretty much the same anyway. A girl behind us in line at the bar was so impressed with the band she vowed to get the first two White Stripes albums tomorrow, since those were the ones she didn’t yet own.

Behind the stage, we saw Jack White dashing to the backstage area during the encore. Meg White appeared a moment later and when I yelled “Yeah Meg White!” she turned and gave a quick smile and wave before disappearing herself. That made my night.

Numba Wan and I agreed it was a great show, more fun than Radiohead but not as good musically. For a few drunken moments watching him play the Fillmore Auditorium, I was convinced Jack White was the man at the raw epicenter of modern rock. He is very gifted at writing catchy tunes and manipulating a fawning media, but his band has a fundamental weakness that probably cannot be overcome. Simply put, the White Stripes don’t have many ingredients to work with. The drum kit-guitar-microphone setup can be a potent combination when used effectively but ultimately can only create a relatively limited range of music. At a certain point, the songs sound the same no matter how catchy they are. Additionally, Jack White’s understandable devotion to blues has him looking backwards rather than forwards for inspiration, leaving his music decidedly regressive. This explains why the White Stripes, while being very good at what they do, ultimately can’t attain the transcendent heights of, say, Radiohead or the Verve.

The lesson is this: you don’t listen to the White Stripes to blow your mind, but you can dance a mighty fine jig to their tunes and have a blast doing it.