The White Stripes, Shepherds Bush Empire, London

Shepherds Bush Empire, London

The casual observer might be forgiven for thinking Detroit duo the White Stripes a textbook example of hype. Last summer, their arrival in England provoked an absurd blaze of publicity. Since then, their records have never threatened to dislodge Dido from the top of the charts. More people have heard about them than actually heard their stripped-down, ultra-primitive blues.

Nevertheless, there is no sense of anti-climax tonight. They are introduced as "the best live band in the world", to hollered approval. It quickly becomes clear why. Jack White is possessed of a startling wounded howl and a ferocious, attacking guitar technique. He falls to the floor, screams at his guitar, dispenses advice of the "Keep away from married women" variety - and is effortlessly upstaged by drummer Meg White, a startlingly original percussionist. If her instrumental abilities were any more basic she would be hitting the snare with her forehead, but no drummer has ever looked like Meg does on stage. She thumps away with the grim determination of a DIY enthusiast who sees the end of the bank holiday looming, yet does so wearing a disconcerting, beatific smile. Occasionally, she plays one-handed, resting the other on her hip like a teacher demanding the culprit make himself known.

The duo's interplay is bizarre. Jack's microphone faces Meg's drumkit. As he sings certain lyrics - "I'm sick of love! I wish I'd never met you!" - he stares directly into her eyes. She returns his glare with what can only be described as coquettish glances. "Thass mah big sis-tuh," nods Jack approvingly between songs. There are plenty of theories about the exact nature of their relationship (it has been claimed that they are recently divorced), but if she is his big sis-tuh, there is the distinct suggestion that rum things are going on between them.

The cumulative effect of this peculiar psychodrama and the duo's archaic row is electrifying and extreme. When they launch into Hotel Yorba, the crowd erupts in a way that makes your average rock audience look like the model of genteel politesse. People lurch around with deranged abandon, beakers of beer are hurled in the air, a teenager clambers on the barriers before the stage and tussles with the bouncers. It is as if the White Stripes' reductive noise has unlocked an equally primeval state in their fans. The duo are as potent as rock gets in 2002.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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