What the heck was THIS about?
The down and dirty details about Jack and Meg’s Madison Square Garden performance after the jump.
Hey guys–All day I’ve been hemming and hawing over what to write about last night’s New York City White Stripes show. As you all know, I’m a HUGE WS fan–I have been ever since 2001 when (in very fangirl fashion) I stalked out Jack and Meg outside the Ed Sullivan Theater when they were supposed to play on Letterman. (They didn’t actually get to perform–they got bumped because of Cokie Roberts.) I will never ever forget–the first time I ever saw Jack White in the flesh was when he walked out of the stage door in a black t-shirt and jeans, carrying a zebra head. Yes, an actual zebra head.
That bizzare first impression basically set the tone for what would become one of my most dysfunctional musical obsessions to date. Over the years the White Stripes have thrilled me with their constant evolution and experimentation, but perhaps it is because the high points are so high that the mediocre or low points seem so low.
I actually went in with no sort of expectation for the show at MSG. I’d never actually BEEN to MSG before for a concert, so I really had no idea what type of crowd would be there, what the “vibe” would be or any of that. I almost never go to huge arena shows so I totally forget how distant-feeling and removed you can feel during these types of concerts.
I got there relatively early, leisurely went through the bag check, and then to my immediate right, I saw the merchandise table. I headed over to see what kind of special wares were for sale this time around. I didn’t see any special posters (ED NOTE: Apparently I didn’t look hard enough, or looked at the wrong merch booth–there WERE posters!! WTF?!?) or any of those $5 t-shirts that were available at the Irving Plaza show last month. Nope. All I saw was $25 dollar shirts that were nothing to write home about (although the rib cage made out of buttons was cute), the $50 USB port with the album, and some ridiculous kilts for sale. Oookkkaaayyy…
We headed to our seats, and even though we got there well before the Stripes’ 10:15pm set time, I didn’t get there early enough to catch opener Porter Wagoner. I did however get there just in time to see Nick Cave’s side project/mid life crisis called Grinderman. Let it be known that I really know nothing of Nick Cave and his musical endeavors–I realize that he has an extensive musical cannon behind him and that many people think he is a brilliant musician, but I have to base my opinions on what I saw, not what other people tell me.
Now brace yourselves–I’m going to be frank. Grinderman sounded like the musical equivalent of the Elaine Dance. You’re trying really hard not to be mean, but you just can’t help but notice that something is terribly, terribly wrong with the situation. The wailing guitars and primal drum beats that make up Grinderman’s signature “garage rock” sound just didn’t translate well over an echoing half-empty arena.
And even though once upon a time in Nick Cave’s career, he was probably seen as “edgy” and “cool” as he shrieked and howled into his microphone when he fronted his post-punk band called The Birthday Party, the truth is that no one wants to see a 49 year old man in a suit doing that–unless your name happens to be Iggy Pop–it’s embarrassing to all parties involved. And what’s even worse than a 49 year old man whooping and wailing is a 49 year old man growling about “panther piss” (“Get It On”). I’m sorry, I just CANNOT get behind that.
Anyhoo, needless to say, by the time the White Stripes came onstage I was good and ready to rock out. The stage looked positively stunning when the stage hands took down the curtain that had been covering the main backdrop to reveal a giant red scrim and red platform with three sets of stairs standing behind the drum kit and guitar/amp setup. Pristine and void of all that weird palm tree madness that plagued the Get Behind Me Satan tour, it was a lovely site to see. In addition to that, I was thrilled to once again see the classic all-red outfit that Jack was sporting, while Meg was in a tasteful red top and black pant number. The starting song, “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground” was promising enough, as was the next–“When I Hear My Name”. Both are of the older WS catalog, but pretty standard staples in the Stripes’ setlists. But as soon as I heard the intro to “Jolene” I kinda rolled my eyes. Yes, it’s a great song. Yes, the White Stripes do a great cover of it, but DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES I’VE HEARD THEM DO “JOLENE” OVER THE LAST 5 YEARS? Too many to count.
The choices for the next few songs felt uninspired to me–songs the White Stripes could play in their sleep–“Hotel Yorba”, “Cannon”, “John the Revelator” and then a surefire mob mentality crowd pleaser, “Icky Thump”. However, the next song was an unexpected surprise–a tune off their first album, the slow and steady “Do”. However, the spark didn’t last for long–a song that Jack has played and infinitum, “Death Letter” was up next, followed by Meg singing “Cold, Cold Night”.
Although “Cold, Cold Night” wouldn’t really be my choice of song for Meg to sing since that’s the only song Jack seems to let her croon (remember when they used to do “Rated X”? That used to be awesome!), there was one brief moment during that song that gave me chills–as Meg stood on one side of the stage, playing the electric organ during the instrumental interlude between her verses, Jack was on the opposite side of the stage hunched over–leaning on his knees, back to audience–almost hiding behind Meg’s drum kit. There was an innocence to that moment that truly seemed magical. I could envision Jack and Meg sitting in an attic somewhere when they first started the band, clumsily pounding and strumming away at their instruments with total concentration, and a bit of disregard for one another, but somehow in perfect harmony.
The next couple songs were off of Icky Thump, “A Martyr for My Love” and “I’m Slowly Turning Into You”. It was during the latter song where I had a “wtf” moment. The disco ball started up for “ISTIY”, which was fine–but then Jack started lifting his hand up into the air after ever guitar riff he did. The crowd responded by “WOOH-ing”. Jack continued to lift up his hand, and the crowd continued to “wooh”. This continued on for about 30 seconds – 1 minute. Guitar riff/ Wooh/ Guitar riff/ Wooh/ Guitar riff/ Wooh. (See the video at the beginning of this post.) It was like a freaking frat chant or something. It was a bit confusing/alarming. I will never quite understand the reasoning for that.
Also somewhere during the second half of the show someone decided that throwing their glowing mix drink stirrer into the crowd would be awesome. Other people caught on to this trend, so by the time the encore break rolled around, it was a full-on glowing swizzle stick assault on the lower levels of the arena. As annoying as it kinda was, it was kinda cool to se all the little glowy sticks as they made their decent through the dark sky…that was until the stick poked someone’s eye out or hit someone on the head. Oh well oh well oh well.
The rest of the show was pretty unremarkable. I was glad to hear them do “You Don’t Know What Love Is” since it is one of my favorite songs off the new album, but other than that the setlist was pretty predictable and pedestrian. There wasn’t any songs where I gasped and said, “I can’t believe they are playing this!” or I found myself trying to figure out who/what they were covering. The stage banter was also pretty unmemorable–with just a handful of corny jokes like, “I don’t believe we’ve played this bar before.” Oh and there was that one comment that Jack made during their bows, thanking the audience for buying their albums. Was he pandering to the crowd?? Don’t bother thanking us for liking your music, or being such a good audience…just thank us for spending dough that will put your kids through college.
I was impressed by the fact that those two little people could produce a sound that could fill up such a large venue and translate with the same amount of intensity as it would if it had been a 200-person club. However, the unfortunate aspect of the show was that the level of intensity from the band was not all it could have been. I’ve seen them deliver far more engaging and entertaining performances to 5,000+ person venues before where I did not find myself bored.
To me the lack of “special” merchandise [ED NOTE: I’m a tool and I MISSED the posters and buttons set… I’m going to go cry now] and the lack of a more challenging/varied setlist really signaled that unlike the Canadan leg of their tour, this is purely about bringing home the bacon. The Stripes gave us exactly what they thought the audience wanted–the hits, some new songs, and some familiar favorites. Not exactly a failure, but far from an inspirational night of music. It’s kinda like how Ewan McGregor does Star Wars so he can afford to do his passion projects that pay no money. The Stripes can afford to to through the wilds of Canada performing at bowling alleys and on trolley cars BECAUSE they make tons of cash selling us big city suckers $60 tickets and $25 tshirts.