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Photograph by Patrick Pantano

Balloonatics: Jack and Meg took a shot at radio station promotions last Friday.

Cal Jam

Fans get behind the White Stripes at the Greek

By Gabe Meline

IN THE moments before the White Stripes took to the ornately Polynesian-decorated stage at the sold-out Greek Theater on Friday night, a girl standing on one of the concrete steps muttered the timeless wish: "I hope they don't play all new songs."

It looked, at first, like she'd leave brokenhearted. Jack White, making his entrance in a Lester Young porkpie hat, a Dylanish long black coat and a pair of tight black pants with red flares, launched forthrightly into "Blue Orchid," the Lenny Kravitz-meets-Prince jam that kicks off the band's adventurous and maligned new album, Get Behind Me Satan. But in a series of struts and hops, White extended the introduction to "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," followed by a quick snippet of "I Think I Smell a Rat" and a howling version of "Black Math," all older favorites. Finally addressing the crowd, he jokingly introduced himself as John Black and drummer Meg White as Meg Ryan.

In a strange recurring interlude, Meg White, with a red scarf tied around her neck, beat a large, red pair of tympani drums and sang "Passive Manipulation," a short 35-second jingle about listening to your mother. But the wackiest moment of the night came during "We're Going to Be Friends," when large balloons advertising Channel 104.9 suddenly appeared, bouncing above the crowd. White abruptly stopped the song.

"Hey, is this some fuckin' radio promotion?" he snarled.

After White grabbed the balloons and heaved them offstage, he finished the number, but then added another jab to the radio station trying to take advantage of his stage time.

"And another thing," he said; "before said radio station blacklists our music for doing away with their stupid balloon, I would like them to know that I would like a written apology, tomorrow, for interrupting my song."

Nonetheless, the fast pace continued undeterred, with fresh material performed on a grand piano ("My Doorbell," the impeccable ballad "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet") as his growling guitar handled older classics like "Hotel Yorba."

"Seven Nation Army," the band's oft-covered gem, was as powerful as ever, as was "The Hardest Button to Button." But some of Get Behind Me Satan's songs were strange and confounding, coming across as too simple when presented in a duo format. "Little Ghost," for which White strummed mandolin, lacked the deep, four-part harmony on the album, and the sporadic guitar crashes that unexpectedly violate the marimba-flavored "The Nurse" were programmed into a foot pedal, sounding predictable on the obvious downbeat.

After years of performing together, Jack and Meg should be able to communicate through body language and subtle cues, yet every change was conducted by Jack White, and any nuance in dynamic that he instigated was ignored by the dazed-looking Meg. Once, when White straddled the piano with his back turned to the drums, near-disaster was averted only by awkwardly shouting out a vocal cue to Meg in the middle of "Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)."

It has been said before, but Jack White needs a band, especially in light of the new material. He is an enigmatic character, a possessed performer and a great songwriter with an emotive voice, but even he himself has admitted that the White Stripes could run out of steam someday. That day may be soon.

In the hipster's world, potential greatness has always carried more stock than actual greatness, but by now Jack White has attained the clout and confidence to realize his full vision to the rest of the world, and for him to deny it would be a betrayal of his expansive talent.

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From the August 17-23, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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