A sold-out suburban Detroit crowd showed its love for the red and white Wednesday at the Royal Oak Music Theatre by overzealously welcoming home the rock duo White Stripes.
Fans punched their fists in the air and screamed heartily as singer/guitarist Jack White began the show in true rock star fashion – by dropping to his knees for an introductory blistering guitar solo from “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” the opening track from the White Stripes’ breakthrough album, White Blood Cells.
“Good evening, children,” Jack said to the crowd. “My name is Jack White and this is my big sister, Meg, on drums.”
As he played, an American flag slowly dropped from the rafters to serve as a backdrop. It proved to be a dramatic addition, especially when the stage was left black save for lights shining from the floor onto the flag. Red and white lights illuminated the coved ceiling. The all-ages audience, much of which was dressed in red shirts, responded feverishly to each of Jack White’s solos, which numbered more than an average Van Halen concert. By mid-show, dirt soiled the knees of his trademark red pants, causing him to look more like a mischievous kindergartner than an It-boy musician. For such songs as the cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Jack stepped behind a mic with echo effects.
Meg White’s bass drum resembled a giant Cream Saver red-and-white candy. Wearing a red shirt and white pants, Meg looked coyly over her shoulder to her bandmate as she lent her angelic vocals to the rollicking closing of “I’m Bound to Pack It Up.”
The usually dour Jack, whose real name is John Gillis, sported a wide grin when fans sang along to “We’re Going to be Friends” and wildly applauded Blind Willie McTell’s “Lord Send Me an Angel,” the latter of which includes the lyrics, “Well I used to say married women, sweetest women ever born/ You better change that thing you better leave married women alone/ Take my advice let married women, boy let ’em be/ ‘Cause their husband’ll grab ya, beat your ragged ass with a cedar tree.” He seemed genuinely pleased with the show, the first of two sold-out performances this week at the theater. The second show by the band, which plays MTV’s 2002 Movie Awards on June 6, is Thursday (May 23).
“My sister and I would like to thank you. It wasn’t too long ago that there were 15 people at the Gold Dollar,” he said about a now-closed tiny dive in the rough-and-tumble Cass Corridor area of Detroit.
Repeated references to his “sister” Meg lent more credence to the fact that they are a divorced couple. Her family, sitting in a roped-off VIP section in the balcony, intermittently chuckled or cheered each time the word “sister” was mentioned.
In true Detroit fashion, the show ended with the effervescent crowd chanting “Let’s go Red Wings” after the DJ announced they had beat the Colorado Avalanche in OT. He had also read the score of the game in between acts.
The three-piece band Whirlwind Heat, who open for White Stripes May 30-June 10 and June 22, didn’t impress the audience with their stop-and-start-style noise rock. After a couple of songs, the crowd began chanting “White Stripes,” much to the dismay of agitated lead singer/Moog guitarist David Swanson. He amused the audience, however, perhaps unintentionally, with his splits, side kicks and near-violent gyrations. At one point, he kicked bassist Steve Damstra’s butt for no apparent reason. (Clone Defects serve as opener July 9-14, while sunny Detroit-area pop singer and former Virgin Records signee Brendan Benson will support May 28 and May 30-June 6.)
The Detroit Cobras and their form of rockabilly-meets-blues-meets-country sound was well received – except for one heckler who was berated twice by lead singer Rachel Nagy for flipping her the bird. Mostly hidden beneath a wall of guitars, Nagy’s smoky vocals and stellar back-up band – which included Black Crowes’ keyboardist Eddie Harsch on bass and talented Detroit singer/songwriter Kenny Tudrick on drums – made up for her lack of professionalism. The former exotic dancer shimmied behind her microphone between swigs of beer and water, and drags of her ever-present cigarette.
At one point, she stopped to verbally tease the crowd.
“You young whippersnappers don’t know anything about all that heartbreak sh-. Don’t worry. You will in another five years.”