More often than not, artists who gain a pop culture foothold because they harbor a singular vision end up abandoning that stance out of boredom or a desire to staunch diminishing popular returns. Minimalist mavens the White Stripes would seem likely candidates for such a turnabout, but as demonstrated by their just-released sixth album, “Icky Thump” — and accentuated at this purposeful, powerful day-of-release perf — less is still more in the Jack and Meg White’s universe.
The intimate gig, a warm-up of sorts for the duo’s impending arena tour, was shorn of just about all visual enhancements — the red-clad musicians played in front of an unadorned, equally crimson backdrop — but anything but lacking in sonic firepower. Opening with a brawny salvo of “When I Hear My Name” and “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” the pair cut through the packed club’s soupy air with two-hours of smartly doled-out material.
The duo certainly knows its roots — Jack punctuated a lengthy intro to “I Think I Smell a Rat” with riffs culled from such guitar-geek classics as “Pipeline” and “Miserlou” — but they no longer display as doctrinaire a fixation on historical correctness.
JackWhite isn’t averse to using old-school showbiz tricks, but he invariably couches them in his trademark perverse impishness. When choosing a song for the obligatory aud-participation interlude, for instance, he steered clear of the band’s most ubiquitous, fist-pumping material and turned the mic crowd-ward for the tender “Apple Blossom” — and was rewarded with a high-decibel sing-along.
Tweaking expectations was the order of the day, with a one-verse version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” (long a staple of the duo’s live shows) rear-ended by an adrenalized rendition of “Hotel Yorba” and a surprisingly successful graft fusing the sweet “Little Cream Soda” and the creepy-crawly, “Citizen Kane”-quoting “The Union Forever.”
Not everything was played fast and loose, of course. Jack’s seamless segues from guitar to organ — and his stops at a half-dozen microphones, each “tuned” to different specifications — lent a sharp focus to blistering versions of “Cannon” and “Catch Hell Blues.” Meg, whose purposeful minimalism is often mistaken for amateurism, provided a flawless foil, loosing torrents of bass drum to complement her partner’s trebly soloing and skittering across her cymbals when he trotted out the baritone guitar.
The pair, who’ll celebrate their 10th anniversary as a band next month, manifested an intuitive bond throughout the set, particularly on “I Am Slowly Turning Into You.” That track escalated in intensity as Jack made his way across the stage, singing the last stanzas just inches away from his bandmate, their locked gaze ramping up the obsessive vibe. A small gesture, but like most of the Stripes’ signifiers, a positively indispensable one.
The White Stripes return to Gotham for a July 24 show at Madison Square Garden. They play The Forum in Los Angeles on Sept. 19.