Stripes Leave Denver Cold

White's stripped-down approach wearing thin

September 22, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Jack and Meg White share a stage surname, a flair for feeding rumors, and a predilection for white and red color schemes. What they don't share, unfortunately, is a talent for their respective instruments.

Over four albums, Jack White has proven that he is a fantastic guitarist and an immense songwriting talent. But it might take another act covering the White Stripes to make that clear, because seeing the duo in concert is like watching a gifted artist cut a demo. It's as if he says to Meg, "Hey, can you just keep time for me while I get this stuff down on tape?"

As soon as the Stripes hit Denver's Fillmore Auditorium Friday night, they launched speechlessly into the early tune "The Big Three Killed My Baby." A string of songs from 2001's White Blood Cells followed: "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," "Hotel Yorba" and "I'm Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman." Then the set diversified, bouncing between albums and ultimately evenly spanning their recorded history: from their eponymous debut to this year's Elephant.

The songs blurred like the years and spoken words slurred into one another, and the whole thing slowly turned into a bunch of electro pseudo-blues gobbledy gook. But when the crowd settled down about an hour into the ninety-minute show, the band's flaws really started to show.

Meg's simplistic skin-pounding, her child-like delivery and coy posturing resemble a stunt more than they suggest unique technique or talent. Even the White Stripes' positioning onstage -- Jack frequently singing incoherently into a mike behind the drums, Meg playing directly to him at all times -- suggested as much. The only thing that made her a better choice than a drum machine was her partner's ability to control her tempo without physically pushing a button. Well, she's cute, too.

With the magic of multi-tracking, the White Stripes' albums are full enough to squeak by as complete; the raw minimalism comes off as edgy rather than lacking.Some tunes, like "Yorba Hotel" and "I Want to be the Boy that Warms Your Mother's Heart," withstood the live strip-down. And Meg shone on her sultry vocal showcase "In the Cold Cold Night." But too many songs sounded downright thin.

As Jack claimed during a two-song encore that ended with Leadbelly's "Boll Weevil," a "Seven Nation Army" might not be able to hold him back. But eventually his apparent aversion to forming a real band might.

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