- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2003

Not since Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow have a man and woman made such a tremendous racket. At George Washington University’s Smith Center Saturday night, a heaving gymnasium was headbanging to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Who but Jack and Meg White could’ve inspired such a scene?

The ex-spouses who still insist they’re a brother-sister act, Detroit’s White Stripes have wrought earsplitting invention out of body-count necessity. They are only two, yet they do the work of three or four.

Powered by a trio of amplifier rigs, guitarist Mr. White stalked between three microphone stands, one facing the audience straight-on, another by a small cache of vintage keyboards and a third facing drummer Miss White.

With their unique visual flair, the Stripes usually are walking peppermint candies in red and white; Saturday night they were in lurid red and black, he in pants so tight he looked like The Riddler would have if he played for the Georgia Bulldogs.

A projection screen behind them ran through slides of all those arty geometric designs we’ve come to recognize through the band’s CD packaging.

Being a duo means the White Stripes cut down on lollygagging. Crisply transitioning between songs — about 25 in all, jammed into a brisk 80-minute set — there was barely a breath before one ended and another began. This meant the duo could touch on each of its four albums without leaving out any favorites, including newer fare such as “Seven Nation Army,” “Ball and Biscuit” and the Burt Bacharach classic “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.”

Miss White emerged from behind her kit to purr the lead on “In the Cold, Cold Night.”

They reached back for their gritty cover of Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” and ran through a heaping portion of 2000’s “De Stijl”: the pop-punky “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)”; the bluesy “Hello Operator” and “Little Bird,” Son House’s “Death Letter” and the preening “Apple Blossom.”

The Stripes’ minimalist instrumentation also means the traditional structure of a live blues-based rock band is out the window. While Mr. White pulls off a massive guitar clangor and, through a buffet of digital pedals, fills out the Stripes’ bass loose ends, Miss White is forced to be a Donovan McNabb sort of drummer: always out of the pocket, chasing after melody lines.

Of course, this is exactly what makes White Stripes so exceptional. They’re more than the sum of their two parts, and the addition of a bass player would radically alter the odd lock step between them.

For a band so self-limited, the Stripes punch well above their weight, dynamically shifting between the noisy metal-blues of “Let’s Build a Home” and “Black Math” and the country-western “Hotel Yorba.”

Mr. White is by far the most fascinating interpreter of American blues in at least a generation, and the fact that his palette intermingles punk, folk and country only makes the Stripes that much more invigorating.

His biggest asset — his witty, angular lyrics — were lost in the din Saturday, which was unfortunate. The schoolboyishly sweet “We’re Going to Be Friends” was a bright quiet moment.

Mr. White often sings of childhood and school days, so perhaps that’s a clue to why the White Stripes chose the peppermint as their icon. As rock revivalists, Jack and Meg White are like kids in a candy store.


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