The seemingly inexorable upward trajectory of the greatest brother and sister combo since the Carpenters continues.
Having reportedly just signed a lucrative US deal, (and, better still, turned down a offer from Gap) Jack and Meg White, the subjects of bizarre speculation by everyone from the tabloids to the BBC's Today programme during the silly season of August, celebrate with their biggest British show yet. Somewhat inevitably the audience seems to share a collective attitude best described as "impress me, then".
"You all stand still very well," Jack drily compliments the crowd after the opening brace of songs fails to ignite a moshpit largely occupied by young men barging past carrying cans of Red Stripe. But gradually the crowd realise they're watching something very special. By the final encore, "Not the Marrying Kind", in which the vocals waver between apparent tributes to Marlene Dietrich and, er, Tommy Steele, the reception is rapturous.
What's astonishing is just how easily their famously limited palette fills this larger venue. It's well known now that there are no brass sections or backing singers here, just a boy and his guitar and his big sister on the drums. But what they do with so little is extraordinary. Their interplay is just perfect here; not a note wasted or beat out of place, even if Jack's favoured guitar refuses to stay in tune. Though their sound is clearly rooted in the electric blues – the covers of Son House's "Death Letter" and Blind Willie McTell's jollier "Lord Send Me an Angel" are, as usual, outstanding – their own mutation is at least as commercial as vintage Led Zeppelin, who, lest we forget, used the same starting point.
Not that Zep ever played 20 or so songs in just more than an hour. The Stripes' idea of self-indulgence consists of a frantic medley including old rock'n'roll numbers alongside their own, lasting about four minutes. From the amiable singalong country pop of their irresistible if atypical hit "Hotel Yorba" and their cover of Loretta Lynn's "Rated X", Meg's charming (that is, wobbly) vocals to the fore, to the noisy histrionics of "I Think I Smell a Rat" and "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground", they show no fear of extremes.
Being picky, one might complain that "Fell In Love With A Girl", though catchy, still sounds like half a Pixies tune, played by half a band; that the electric piano was sadly underused; and that favourites such as "Apple Blossom" and "Hello Operator" didn't make this set at all.
But how many bands leave you feeling mildly deflated after half an hour, on realising that the set's already half over? New-found wealth or not, they're still the best live band on the planet. Who else could get a room pogoing to something out of a teach-yourself-guitar primer like the truly ancient folk blues "Boll Weevil Song"? Skill.
Last show, 6 Dec at the Forum, London NW5 (020-7344 0044)Reuse content