Detroit rock duo the White Stripes play a stripped-down, punk-infused modern blues blend that’s currently the toast of the industry. The twosome have just signed a major deal with V2 Records, which will also reissue the group’s three indie albums, and their excitable pop song “Fell In Love With a Girl” is currently one of the hottest tracks on alternative rock radio.
But like Beck, Oasis, Moby and the Strokes before them, the majority of the band’s appeal comes from its clever ability to shamelessly appropriate the style and sound of others while seeming (or claiming) to be doing something original in the process.
At the jam-packed El Rey on Monday, the final of four local sell-outs, frontman Jack White evoked the spirits of long-dead bluesmen with a succession of feedback-laced guitar licks and familiar-sounding slide guitar moves while Meg White brought new meaning to the term minimalist with a decidedly laid-back approach to her 4-piece kit.
The White Stripes often sounded like a bass-less Led Zeppelin anchored by a one-arm Charlie Watts. Jack wailed away with vocals that recalled Robert Plant copying Willie Dixon, while executing an endless succession of guitar tricks. Songs mostly came from group’s 2001 album “White Blood Cells” (Sympathy For the Record Industry).
To her credit, Meg displayed a smart ability to follow Jack’s lead with a solid command of dynamics and, like any good drummer, she was able to add personality to the mix without stepping on the frontman. Meg — who Jack repeatedly referred to as his “little sister” though most industry observers believe she’s his ex-wife — also sang one song during the encore.
The 90-minute show was not as musically diverse as the eclectic efforts found on the White Stripes’ albums, however numerous live entries did distinguish themselves at the El Rey. The pleasant “We’re Going To Be Friends” boasted delicate vocals a la Paul McCartney, the dramatic “I Think I Smell a Rat” sounded like Nirvana meets the Kinks, and “You’re Pretty Good Looking (for a girl),” from band’s 2000 release “De Stijl” (also issued by Sympathy), was garage rock in its most basic form.
The White Stripes have found an exciting way to recreate the music they grew up on, and they clearly have an affection for what they’re doing. However, as with so many other hyped bands these days, they are sorely lacking in original ideas, and widespread industry expectations that this act will be the saviors of rock ‘n’ roll will no doubt fail to transpire.