The White Stripes split up this week, John Robb pays tribute to the duo
The White Stripes split is, oddly, an anti climax.
Maybe it’s because they have not done anything for such a long time that they seem to have already fizzled out into a pile of side projects.
But it’s still a shame as they were one of the key bands of the last twenty years- taking the raw punk rock blues so beloved of the underground and somehow making it mainstream.
Here was band that were in that tradition of the brilliant Gun Club, 68 Comeback, the Oblivians, Panther Burns and the Cramps, quoting those genius frontier rockers band’s swamp strangeness and raw power and diving headlong into the ambition and white noise of the early Stooges and on into the long American night.
I remember seeing them play a few times. The first time was on their first tour at the packed Roadhouse in Manchester where you couldn’t see or even hear the band in the tiny venue. That night every hipster in town tuned out for the band, even the deaf ones who when at the Strokes first gig in the city, had droned on about the Strokes being a cross between the Stooges and the Ramones instead of what they really were- an indie band.
The White Stripes lived up to their promise, not only could Jack White play guitar but he could play it dirty and as the band got bigger they seemed to get dirtier. They made distorted vocals sound normal and acceptable to the fluffy eared creeps who programme MTV or the bored androids who decide what gets played on daytime radio and for a brief flurry of time they took the classic thrill of guitar noise to the heart of the mainstream.
The fact that there was two of them was even better. For years the trio had been the perfect rock n roll band- nowhere to hide everyone there for a reason but they went one further. Not good news for bass players but here was a band who made the sexual, guttural, primal rush of rock n roll with a guitar and drums only- the new perfection.
And the way they arranged themselves onstage and toyed with their boy/girl imagery was great as well. Were they lovers or brother and sister? They faced off onstage with the sexual tension and release of all great rock n roll. It was perfect.
Meg was a great drummer- the classic just play what’s needed assault- but her tiny frame had the power and by the time the band were in the arenas she had them all dancing with her perfect groove. The last time I saw the band play was at Blackpool Empress Ballroom, the perfect venue for this kind of music, the faded grandeur of the Victorian ballroom where there had been the famous riot for the Rolling Stones gig in 1964 and the Roses had changed a generation in 1989- the place oozed history, Jack White loved it so much that he filmed it and released the gig as a DVD saying this was his favourite venue. I was there with Meg’s then boyfriend and we watched the gig in awe at the band’s primal power and met them afterwards, the demure Meg was really sweet and the surprisingly tall Jack was all good manners and modesty.
Onstage hey were at the peak of their powers and oozed that strange chemistry and soul power of a band at the peak of their powers. Dressed in their customary junk store red and whites they looked like animated mannequins oozing prime time blues from a gun.
Who have we got now to represent our noise in the mainstream?