At Deer Lake Park on Sunday, June 24
In hindsight, what seemed like thunder around 5 on Sunday afternoon might well have been Meg White hammering her way through sound check in Burnaby. After all, as she proved at the ever-idyllic Deer Lake Park later that night, the more fetching half of the White Stripes doesn't just hit her drums, she bludgeons them. Considering how much blunt-force trauma she administered during the hammer-of-the-gods monster that was "Icky Thump", you just knew that, somewhere in East Van, ghetto dwellers were looking up at the sky wondering why they could still hear thunder long after the lightning storm had moved on.
Speaking of natural electricity, there was no shortage of that on display between Jack and Meg, which in turn sparked the sold-out crowd of more than 8,000. A mix of cowboy hat–sporting cougars, Main Street hipsters, rock-radio skids, and doobie-huffing soccer moms arrived ready to rawk, as sure a sign as any that the Stripes are now, bizarrely, every bit as mainstream as Theory of a Nickelfault. What they saw was a band that still has what the fossils in Pavement would describe as miles and miles of style. Yes, as great as the Austin Powers–inspired dandies in the stage-left VIP area looked, they had nothing on the Stripes' show from a visual standpoint.
Sartorially, the duo were business as usual, which no doubt disappointed those who expected the (quite frankly insane) getup they sport on the cover of their latest, Icky Thump. Instead of looking like the wet dream of a Button Barn shareholder, Meg sported a pressed white shirt offset by a black beret and black slacks. Little Jacky went for a black T-shirt-and-red-pants ensemble, his trousers matching the colour of the stage, which, thanks to stairs and platforms, looked straight out of Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Hell, even the roadies looked awesome, as they all sported matching '40s suits offset by red ties and Naked Lunch–brand hats.
For all their attention to detail where the visuals are concerned, the Stripes are sloppy as fuck when they play live. Acting as a much-needed anchor on this night was Meg. As much as she's often derided as a lead-footed update of the Shaggs' Helen Wiggin, the pasty-faced timekeeper proves there's power in simplicity. The best thing about her is that what you hear on the White Stripes' records is what you get live. Thanks to Meg, the set's kickoff song, "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground", was every bit as devastating as it first seemed when White Blood Cells hit in 2002. As consistent and steady as she was, the same can't be said for Jack White. God love him for single-handedly reviving the corpse of rock 'n' roll in the early aughts, but the man isn't without his faults. The biggest among them is his tendency to detour from the script when he's in front of a live audience. Maybe he was just excited about kicking off his cross-Canada tour, or maybe he'd had four too many Red Bulls backstage, but his tendency to resort to breathless, talons-on-a-blackboard shrieking almost torpedoed crowd favourites like "Hotel Yorba". Despite what we heard on an, um, interesting cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene", you're paid to sing buddy, not shriek like two cats fucking in a potato sack.
As on past visits, the White siblings/exes/whatevers were often more focused on each other than on the crowd. Sometimes the duo's weirdly insular, two-against-the-world approach works, as on the pile-driving version of "Seven Nation Army". But the evening's best moments came when the two showed that they cared about the crowd as much as each other. Proving that she can actually talk as well as sing, Meg winningly traded the sticks for the mike on the Velvets-via-backwoods-America ballad "In the Cold, Cold Night". Jack–who spent the night bolting around the stage like a five-year-old with a raging sugar jones–got the biggest cheer by jumping onto a platform and doing a modified duck walk during a feedback-splattered "I'm Slowly Turning Into You".
A wildly uneven but frequently captivating night came to a close with the audience joining en masse for the call-and-response cover of Lead Belly's "Boll Weevil". White finished things off by climbing onto one of the stage's platforms, grabbing a B.C. flag, and waving it like he'd just taken Virginia. From the way the crowd roared, you just know that somewhere beyond Deer Lake Park it sounded like thunder.