The White Stripes at the Wireless Festival, 14 June 2007

The White Stripes – Wireless Festival, Hyde Park, 14 June 2007

In contrast to everything about the Kings of Leon gig review, I’m going to write a short, sweet and utterly positive review of the White Stripes, who I saw over a month ago. Seeing the White Stripes live (a long time ambition of mine) is perhaps why the Kings of Leon seemed so average.

White Stripes White Stripes White Stripes

The White Stripes were deserved headliners at Wireless as they captivated the crowd with their simple yet complex sound. It has been said many times before, but the immense sound they make with only Meg on drums, Jack on his pimped-up retro guitar (and occasionally on keyboard) and his hell-sent (as opposed to heaven-sent) vocals is just plain unbelievable unless you hear it for yourself. It makes me wonder what the point of rhythm guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and general band members is? Then I realise that not every musician is capable of the instrumental tricks of Jack White, and I am convinced this is because he has sold his soul to the devil for his blues-rock guitar and vocal prowess.

According to the band, they do not write a set list but just go with the moment (in constast to the rigidity of the Kings). It works damn well too, I couldn’t tell that it was all unplanned. They played a mix spanning their whole decade, with highlights for me being: “Icky Thump” in all it’s crazed glory; a “Blue Orchid”/”Denial Twist” medley with guitar instead of keyboard on the latter; “Jolene” (by Dolly Parton), which is one of the most spine-tingling covers I have ever heard; and “Death Letter” (by Son House) being the other. Somehow, the Whites manage to make other people’s songs entirely their own. The other cover version in their set is a real crowd pleaser, with the crowd singing along (without the need of Jack) to “I just don’t know what to do with myself” by Burt Bacharach.

The whole set was totally absorbing and electrifying and I didn’t want it to end, which is the litmus test for a quality gig. My only quibble was that the big screens showed the live footage in red, white and (I think) black only, so that people at the back wouldn’t really see the band properly. I really hope this was a one-off because I’m going to see them from towards the back at the O2 arena it would suck to not see them on screen. They are going to look like they are made of lego (see my photos above) on stage so I wanna see them on screen!

The White Stripes put on the best musical performance I have seen in a very long time because the music pulses through their veins, and then magically into ours. Some more interesting banter would have made us feel more loved as an audience, but now I’m just getting greedy. Roll on the Arena tour.

Icky Thump on the Marble Arch

PS Anyone know who is supporting on their UK tour in Autumn?

KOL – Hammersmith Apollo, Friday 13 July

Kings of Leon live at the Hammersmith Apollo, Friday 13 July 2007.

KOL KOL KOL

I’m not the superstitious type, but this gig seemed to be blighted with problems. I suspect this was more to do with it being the end of a long tour and the crew and band being knackered and therefore not up to scratch. But to start from the beginning…

I was mightily excited all day because I saw KOL the last time they toured the UK, at the Kentish Town Forum, and I thought they put on a great show despite the fact that I was ill at the time. They went some way to transporting me back in time 30+ years which I would dearly love to do, with their 1970s sound and look. There were also rather a lot of middle aged men at this gig who were probably also appreciating the flashback to their collective heyday. Coupled with the fact that their new album shows KOL stronger and more confident than ever (not that they were anything but from the start) I had high expectations of them, which was probably what jinxed the evening. Not that I am superstitious, of course.

The support act, Snowden, were far too loud so we had to leave the auditorium. Sorry guys, you had real enthusiasm, but we didn’t.

The excitement built up quickly after Snowden left, with the DJ playing the likes of the Rapture, which I feel the need to mention because ‘Get myself into it’ was a perfect choice for getting us in the mood. Soon, KOL strode on stage and started with ‘Four kicks’ (I resisted the urge to say ‘kicked off with…’) which I suppose was supposed to get everyone jumping around and really into it. I have to say that it didn’t work for me and I think ‘Four kicks’ works better when it injects some energy into the already warmed-up crowd, i.e. mid-set. We might have pulled a muscle for god’s sake! Didn’t they realise we all tried to ignore Snowden, that we needed a few medium-paced songs to get us going? I guess not. Bloody optimists.

One thing I want to mention at this point is that lead singer Caleb had his lengthy golden locks cut off a few days before this gig, so that now it’s only drummer Nathan (?) that has the trademark hair now. Personally, I think this was kind of like amputating a limb, but maybe a bit worse seeing as he’s primarily a vocalist and doesn’t need limbs for singing. Before, Caleb had RAWK hair and now he has indie (note the lack of capitals) hair, and he somehow lost his raw edge along with the hair. Plus he looked like Damon Albarn dressed as a Kaiser Chief as he wore a shirt and waistcoat. Intrinsically, not a bad thing, but I need to blame something for the less-than-electrifying performance, and a fashion faux-pas will do. Or maybe that’s being a bit hasty.

The logical thing to blame it on is the sound quality, which was poor to average. At first the vocals were indistinct. Then they were suddenly distorted and painful to hear, at which point a roadie quickly tried to sort it out while Caleb was noticably pissed off (he kicked down the mic stand). After this the vocals were better than they were to start with, but it had pretty much destroyed the moment. Directly after this disruption, and at other points during the set, I thought that the lead guitar (Matthew) sounded misplaced and too loud. At the end of a tour, I would expect the sound to be perfect, but obviously not.

The crap sound was the main downfall of the evening (not the absence of hair and beards), and although Caleb did walk over to the crowd at one point perhaps to compensate, I wasn’t getting good vibes overall. But to move on from this (I will eventually): otherwise, the band were generally good. I usually can’t stop gushing praise about recently attended gigs, but in this case I can’t mask my disappointment.There didn’t seem to be much wrong, but there was less spark than last time I saw them. Perhaps due to the long tour, tiredness and repetition or due to my hazy and possibly rose-tinted memory of the past. Or due to the hair. I dunno. The set was bog-standard I think, although jumbled up a bit and obviously with some new tracks.

For me. the highlight was the encore. They came back on with ‘Knocked up’ and it was pure bliss. It worked perfectly, although I fear they are getting dangerously close to ‘prog’. However, I am somewhat susceptible to prog tendencies and could actually like Spinal Tap if I didn’t know they were a joke (sorry if I burst anyone’s bubble there), and so this is no bad thing in my opinion. As long as they stay the right side of the line, like with ‘Knocked up’, it really works and they seemed to get into their rhythm finally. Followed by the truly satisfying bassline and electrifying screech of ‘Charmer’, KOL became what I was hoping for all night: a great live band.

By the end, the band had put the sound issues behind them and were posing for the cameras and everything. A bit more improvisation and on-stage antics would have been the cherry on top, but they stayed fairly faithful to the records as far as I could tell. It was a good gig, but I was hoping for a little more than just the songs belted out like clockwork. Lucky for me, the encore salvaged the night and I left happy. But I will hesitate next time I consider going to a Kings of Leon concert – something I have never done before.