If there were any doubts that the White Stripes — consisting solely of guitarist Jack White and his “big sister” drummer Meg — could rock out the cavernous Madison Square Garden, the duo erased them with their debut there Tuesday night. “I don’t believe we’ve played this barn before,” joked the guitarist toward the end of their blistering set. Touring to promote their critically acclaimed new release, the explosive “Icky Thump,” the White Stripes made no concessions to the size of the venue. They played sans special effects for much of the set, save for a giant disco ball hanging from the ceiling.
Indeed, the spare quality of the presentation was emphasized by the iconic imagery of the giant-size shadows of the two performers that served as a frequent backdrop.
Performing material that spanned their 10-year career, the red-clad (as usual) duo emphasized their strengths: Jack’s keening wail of a voice and virtuosic, ever-diverse guitar playing; and Meg’s rough-hewn but somehow always mesmerizing percussion. Playing music that revealed influences of country, blues, psychedelia, garage rock and just about every other 20th century genre, they somehow manage to transform the disparate elements into a cohesive stomping whole.
Although such new numbers as “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “Icky Thump” made powerful impressions, it was with such covers as Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene” and the Dusty Springfield hit “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” that the Stripes’ unique style fully shone.
As usual, Jack, who spent a good part of the night singing into a microphone on the drum kit just inches from Meg’s face, allowed her a moment in the vocal spotlight with the haunting “In the Cold, Cold Night.”
The duo demonstrated their real coolness with their incredible choices of opening acts. The aptly named Grinderman, Nick Cave’s new band incarnation, delivered a short but powerful set featuring their blending of punk and grunge rock, with numbers like “No Pussy Blues” revealing a sly but hysterical humor.
Porter Wagoner, on a career rebirth with his new “Wagonmaster” album, demonstrated exactly why he is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Backed by Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, the strong-sounding 79-year-old country legend performed an all-too brief set that included such classics as “Green, Green Grass of Home” and “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.” Clearly moved by the crowd’s enthusiastic response, he appropriately ended with “I’ve Enjoyed as Much of This as I Can Stand.”