LIVE from Your Speakers: The White Stripes, UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Thursday, April 30, 2020

While we love the work Jack White has done as a solo artist, de facto leader of the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather and producer (including wonderful records by Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson and Jerry Lee Lewis), we miss the White Stripes. There was just something special about the righteous noise he and “sister” (ex-wife, actually) Meg made in their time together, how simultaneously controlled and unhinged those records sounded, how impossible it was to play them at anything less than as loud as we could stand.

That sound translated so well live, and we’re fortunate that the duo were recorded for posterity, officially, on the wonderful UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS. Released in 2009, the album captures the White Stripes on Canadian concert stages, playing some of the most hair-raising, feral rock ‘n’ roll you’re likely to hear, music that doesn’t so much emanate from your speakers as barrel through them, falling onto the floor in front of you.

Listen to the take on “Icky Thump” for a great example. Twenty seconds of feedback give way to the familiar riff and Meg’s precise pounding, Jack’s wild-man vocals and twiddly, screechy synth playing. It all fairly explodes, and keeps exploding for four glorious minutes.

There’s more visceral goodness – the breakneck punk of “Black Math,” the neo-Zeppelin stomp of “Ball and Biscuit,” the slow slide through Dolly Parton’s “Jolene, and the audience-teasing run through “Fell in Love With a Girl.” Jack gets his inner Scotsman on with the mandolin strum of “Prickly Thorn, So Sweetly Worn,” but also opens a can of something strong on “Blue Orchid” and sounds almost breathless while doing it.

And then, of course, there’s “Seven Nation Army,” which closes the album. It was the White Stripes’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Nite,” their “Eye of the Tiger,” their “Jump” – the song they could not leave the building without playing. Here the duo flattens the clapping and singing crowd, gives them their marching orders and sends them out of the arena with a mission – to keep singing, enjoy the ringing in their ears and tell everyone they know what a good time they had.

At the conclusion of the Canadian tour that served as the setting for UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS, the band essentially disintegrated; Meg White developed a crippling anxiety disorder that prevented her from performing, and suddenly, the White Stripes were no more. This record serves as a testament to their power and pluck, and to their status as an entity that burned brightest when they were blasting a crowd.


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