The White Stripes, Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool

White noise hits the audience in the gut

Jack and Meg White returned to these shores in a blaze of glory. Their fourth album, Elephant, has been widely hailed as 2003's finest, and the phrase "saviours of rock'' has once again been bandied about.

The White Stripes are not the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band. Rock 'n' roll sounds better with bass. They're something else. For a start they're not a band. Only the two of them appear live - Meg on drums and Jack on guitar and keyboard. Of course, you do get some thrilling rock moments, from the mighty "Seven Nation Army'', built on a riff you know sent its authors to bed happy, to the tantrums of "Black Math'', with which Jack hit the ground running last night.

Songs such as "Hotel Yorba'' and "Can't Wait'' have that classic feel about them, as though they had always existed. As Jack slithers about the stage like a man possessed, the amount of energy coming from just these two people is amazing. And he sure as hell can play guitar.

But don't let's go mad. We're talking scrappy, abrasive punk most of the time. It's simple and wears its blues - and grunge - influences on its sleeve. If the songs were all The White Stripes had, they'd just be the best of the current crop of American retro-garage acts. But really, they're much more fascinating. Their shows can be seen as performance art pieces, centring around the stripped down concept and the enigmatic relationship between Jack and Meg. It's the way he creeps around her as she sings "In the Cold Cold Night'', or the way she sings it ...

But what sets The White Stripes apart is they have turned a concept into something that grabs you in the guts. They put heart and soul into every note, as no one watching last night's concert could doubt.

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