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The White Stripes @ The Molson Amphitheatre 09/16/05

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The Amphitheatre was packed and the crowd was loud and appreciative through (what seemed like) the 25 or more songs The White Stripes unleashed last Friday night - it felt more like 40 tunes. The White Stripes delivered a white-hot show and I'm pleased to report that both band members were NOT swallowed whole by the intimate-challenged large venue. I guess Jack's rock star stature plays to a crowd of any size.

For 105 minutes, The White Stripes sprinkled their set list with songs from all five of their albums. Not surprisingly, the anthems " Hotel Yorba ", " You're Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl) " and " The Hardest Button To Button " went over well with the fraternity types, teens, pre-teens, aging rockers and yuppies in attendance. However, the two best sing-alongs came when the band launched into the mesmerizing Dolly Parton classic " Jolene " and the blistering " Black Math ", complete with 13 000 strong helping Jack sing: " A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-AAAAA ".

The hits got the crowd dancing and singing, but the blues and folk tunes resonated the deepest. Whether it was the a cappella Son House holler " John The Revelator ", " Death Letter " or the Jack White original " Ball & Biscuit ", the obvious grip that the blues has on The White Stripes must have had the thousands of kids in attendance, weaned on MuchMusic, scratching their collective heads. Every time Jack lurched into a screeching improv blues solo, like in his overdriven near-shredding runs in " Ball & Biscuit ", the swarm of young girls standing on the isle near me stared at the stage in agitation, questioning why they bought their White Stripes tour shirts. But MAN, I loved seeing their agitation. Nothing like a skinny white boy from Detroit forcing the blues down unsuspecting throats. The aforementioned " Death Letter " was an early stand-out. The Stripes have made this standard their own by NOT sounding anything like the famous version by Son House. The White Stripes delivered the song in a nasty North Mississippi Delta style, as if channeling the spirit of R.L. Burnside.

Newer songs from the mostly acoustic-based Get Behind Me Satan album fit in well between the older heavier tunes. It was interesting watching Jack buzz around the stage, switching from guitar to piano, back to guitar then over to the organ, resembling some kind of ambidextrous roadie. Yet Meg White refused to get lost behind Jack's formidable shadow. Her big bass drum boomed, acting like an anchor - urging Jack to explore. Meg isn't so much a drummer as she is a bass drum player.

Two not surprising highlights of the night came when Meg stepped from behind her kit to sing the " Passive Manipulation " from Get Behind Me Satan and the haunting Elephant cut " In The Cold, Cold Night ". Given the loud and affectionate audience reaction to these renditions, when Jack finally decides to break this band up, we may see Meg forming her own band - but she won't be playing drums.

The encore lasted almost as long as their first set, pushing well past the curfew time of 10:30. Jack is confident enough to play any tempo song at any given time, so the self-loathing yet still excellent " As Ugly As I Seem " was the highlight of the 35-40 minute encore - this song would not be out of place on Led Zeppelin III.

Fans didn't have to get up to leave when the Stripes exited the stage for evening - none but the weak of body and soul dared sit down. If you have the chance to see The White Stripes play live, don't bemoan the inevitable large size of the venue their bound to be booked to play in. Just get out there and see them. The White Stripes are too good to be true and something this good can't last.

***** (out of 5)

By David Ball

September 18/05

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