BLUES EXPLOSION: White Stripes, The Grand Opera House, Wilmington, Friday
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Mississippi said to Michigan: What did Delaware? If you ask this question – a variation on the old school bus singalong “Delaware” — to a sold out crowd at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware, and pause dramatically and then answer your own question with “Alaska!” and (this part can’t be underestimated) your name is Jack White — well, people go positively apeshit. As Hello Clevelands go, it’s pure Jack: old-timey, slightly bawdy, just this side of corny, and, in the right hands, showbiz gold, Jerry. Those hands — which once held the buxom Meg White, ex-wife-turned-big-sister, in places we can only imagine in the cold, cold night — have demonstrably alchemical powers when holding a Gretsch White Penguin hollow body guitar like a tango partner he just dipped in advance of a long and very French kiss.
You may not be able to see the corona of rock god electricity that shoots out of just about any noisemaker he touches, but by god you will feel it, man or woman, in places not often mentioned in polite society. [Actually managed to capture this so-called rock god electricity in the below left photo] It is through the application of such secular sorcery that Jack White has managed a fairly remarkable trick: Simultaneously saving the blues from extinction-by-irrelevance and pounding out the dents inflicted by a thousand whiteboy bar-band Blues Hammers. Of rockist pedigree, his methods are similar to those of that last great savior of the blooze, Led Zeppelin: Put the paddles on the chest of the corpse and zap it back to life with enough High Voltage to fry a convict, and then forge the signature on the release form and take it back to the country crossroads, from whence it came.
Jack’s smokestack lightning employs roughly the same wattage as Zeppelin II, but the crucial difference is it requires exactly half the manpower and as such leaves behind half the carbon footprint. A double-threat, Jack manages the unprecedented trick of channeling both Page and Plant — many have done one or the other, but nobody does both. Meanwhile Meg’s torqued drum thwackery stomps like John Bonham chasing a shark-filled groupie through a China shop. All of which is about as subtle as Godzilla in downtown Tokyo and exactly ten times as thrilling. Bass? Don’t need it, sorry John Paul Jones. (Note: This only works if you make your wife the drummer, tell everyone she’s your sister, and dress in matching red and white outfits, because otherwise you’re just the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, which by no means sucks, but it don’t get ya the brass ring.) In short: The White Stripes came, they saw, they conquered and everybody smoked a cigarette in the dark afterwards, as it was foretold in the dream that Jack had the other night and shared with the Grand Opera House crowd:
“I had a dream last night that I was inside a barn, playing on a stage for all these soldiers and my guitar kept going [makes sickly bagpipe sound with his mouth] until this sergeant walks over and says “Son, you’re gonna make all these soldiers into sailors if you keep playing that foghorn.” So I said, “OK, I’ll stop” and I put down the guitar and walked off stage. But the guitar kept making that noise so I walked back out and knelt down to look at it and I noticed that the strings were going the wrong way, they were running from the outside of the guitar into the hole in the middle where they just sorta hanging there. And I called the sergeant over and pointed to the guitar and said “That’s a divining rod, that means there is water under there.'”
Sure it does, Jack. Sure it does. Lastly, a Phawker hat tip to hand-picked opener Dan Sartain [pictured, below] whose haunted, hollow-cheeked hillbilly garage-punk valentines come wrapped in No Wave barbwire and go off in your face if you touch ’em the wrong way. Bad ass.
ONE LAST THING: I would like to send out a heartfelt fuckyouverymuch to Press Here Publicity for doing their damnedest to make it impossible for us to photograph the White Stripes. Almost impossible, that is.
[Photos by JONATHAN VALANIA]