- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Matter has its antimatter — and the Shins have their White Stripes.

The two bands brought their strikingly different crafts to the Merriweather Post Pavilion on Tuesday night for a double billing that was something on the order of pairing the Beach Boys with Led Zeppelin.

In this age of “mashups” and IPod shuffles, why not?

The Portland, Ore.-based Shins, currently at work on a third album, had about 45 minutes to work with, and seemed in a rush. As multi-instrumentalist Marty Crandall explained, the band was trying to squeeze “maximum rock ‘n’ roll into these tiny minutes” — which is an accidentally perfect way to describe how the Shins sound.

Shins composer James Mercer writes smart, sunny rock songs that typically wrap up before you have a chance to realize how brilliant they are. Like “Mine’s Not a Horse,” on which Mr. Mercer sang a staccato melody while Mr. Crandall rode an ascending line on a new wavy keyboard. And the hypnotic “Girl Inform Me.” And the surging “Kissing the Lipless.”

The Shins are endearingly nerdy, free of guile and shtick.

The same would never be said of the White Stripes, the Detroit duo that studiously deconstructs the blues and plays it with the fury and clangor of punks.

The Stripes’ shtick — singer-guitarist Jack White insists it’s a guiding philosophy — is to reduce the band to elemental bundles of three. Stage outfits and sets, for instance, obey a scheme of three colors: red, black and white. And the band goes without the rhythmic depth of a bass player, which would upset Mr. White’s bare-bones balance of three musical elements — guitar (or piano), voice and drums.

Since they were last in town (in November 2003 at a cavernous George Washington University gymnasium), Mr. White has appeared in a major motion picture (“Cold Mountain”), collaborated with queen of country Loretta Lynn and broken up with actress Renee Zellweger.

On Tuesday, he was every bit the star, dressed like a carnival barker from Hades.

“You got a reaction, didn’t you?” Mr. White sang on the Stripes’ first number, “Blue Orchid,” the thrusty first single from their latest album, “Get Behind Me Satan.”

Mr. White’s guitar was channeled through three (natch) amplifiers and packed enough electronic overdrive to clear timber. Meg White’s drum kit was so hotly wired that, during the frenzied moments of songs like “Ball and Biscuit,” “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and “I Smell a Rat,” it seemed possible that she might jar your sternum clean out of your chest.

There’s a melodic undercurrent to Mr. White’s songs that, in the end — or in the eye of the storm — is not so unlike Mr. Mercer. The Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends,” which Mr. White played alone on a Robert Johnson-model acoustic guitar, was, well, adorable. So was “My Doorbell,” a stick-in-your-head jingle that the Stripes shopped to — get this — the Nickelodeon children’s network.

Before the encores of “Seven Nation Army” and “The Hardest Button to Button,” the Stripes closed their set with “The Nurse,” a volatile ditty that featured Mr. White on a giant marimba and ended in a squall of distorted guitar tones.

Despite, or maybe because of, their self-imposed limitations, the White Stripes have developed the quality that ensures we’ll care about what they try next — unpredictability.

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