Pop review: The White Stripes

L2, Liverpool
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The curious success of the White Stripes is proof that rock'n'roll fairy tales can still happen. Until this summer, brother and sister Jack (red outfit) and Meg (white outfit) were known only to listeners of an increasingly feverish John Peel, who was describing them as one of the best bands he had ever seen. One quiet week, however, Radio 4's Today programme featured the duo and, before long, the Stripes were being talked about across the country, while record label XL signed them, along with their back catalogue, for a reported £1m. Initial suspicions of a scam were shot down by revelations that the band - veterans of US indie labels - didn't even have a manager (though they hastily appointed an attorney when the bucks began to fly). And as the dust settles, it's obvious why so many people are enthralled.

The original, untamed spirit of rock has been produced, marketed and airbrushed to near extinction, but the White Stripes have that spirit in abundance. To hear them live, Jack's guitars sounding like short-circuiting electric pylons, is like hearing the very corpse of pop itself being given an electrical jolt. Musically, they're nothing new, dipping liberally into early Led Zeppelin, Bo Diddley, Black Sabbath, Country Joe and the Fish, and a score of forgotten blues and garage bands. Only their cover of Detroit peer Iggy Pop's I'm Bored suggests they have listened to anything post-1965. But these sounds haven't been remodelled this brilliantly since 1980s shockabilly weirdos the Cramps, who used twice the personnel and lots more eyeliner, and were nothing like this primal.

Jack's hysterical vocals fall somewhere between Screaming Jay Hawkins and a tequila-crazed Mexican bandit; his elfin drumming sister has replicated the sound of a cabbage landing on a dustbin lid. Beneath the swamp of stomp, though, they have some wonderful tunes that excite a UK crowd hungry for raw music after the success of the Strokes. Hotel Yorba's crazed chant causes uproar, and the pair are screamed back for encore after encore, delighting the Liverpool crowd with the Beatles' Some Other Guy and sweat-soaked moptop Jack's gasp of "Phew! This is a rock'n'roll town." Something that is this olde worlde can't be the "future of rock'n'roll", but by wreaking havoc with rock's infancy, the White Stripes are certainly changing its course.

The White Stripes play the Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow (0141-339 9784), tonight, the Liquid Room, Edinburgh (0131-225 2564), tomorrow, then tour to Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Bristol and London.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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