It’s bitingly cold as White Stripes fans troop up the
antique steps of Detroit’s Masonic Temple Saturday night.
More than a few are muttering about what was supposed to be a late
summer treat having turned into a frozen show-sicle.

Janna Hutz

Originally scheduled for Aug. 10, but delayed when guitarist
Jack White shattered his left hand during a fender-bender in July,
this homecoming concert was put on the back burner with a host of
other live dates while the frontman convalesced. The Stripes added
a second date for Friday as a means of apology, while the gruesome
surgery footage Jack posted on the band’s website silenced
(almost) all other grumbling.

Inside the picturesque Masonic, an endless stream of vintage Tex
Avery and Felix the Cat cartoons play to set the mood before D-town
staples, the Paybacks, handle formal opener duties. Led by the
rasping fury of Wendy Case, they launch through a dozen neo-garage
rockers to a half-empty hall. Suggesting a more amped-up
Pretenders, the Paybacks make enough of a mark that Case is
actually momentarily swamped by autograph requests from mini-Meg
Whites after their set.

Perhaps alluding to Jack’s broken finger, perhaps just for
effect, the Stripes are lead onto the stage by a kinda sexy, kinda
creepy nurse, who gives the duo each a pill and a kiss on the top
of the head to get ’em through the show. Without a word Jack
grabs his guitar and launches right into the determination(al)
anthem “Seven Nation Army.”

Though it’s November outside, Jack and Meg let loose a
blast of sweltering intensity that must’ve been baking since
August. The Stripes relentlessly and comprehensively plow through
their back catalogue, scorching through songs off all four of their
albums, with a shake of B-sides and covers for good measure. The
pace is blistering with Jack cutting early from “Dead Leaves
and the Dirty Ground” to “Cannon” then into
“The Big Three Killed My Baby” in what feels like only
a few action-packed, defiant seconds.

Only when the Stripes come to Dolly Parton’s epic
“Jolene” do they finally let up, giving the audience a
lesson in the importance of dynamics. A good band like the Paybacks
pound out an entire set at max volume, while a great band like our
candy-striped heroes can shift from raw ear-splitting explosions to
whispered intimacy in the space of a couple heartbeats. You’d
be hard pressed to dig up a better illustration than the tragic
build of “Jolene” Saturday night.

From there, the Stripes leap right into the appropriate
“In the Cold, Cold Night,” with Meg stepping out from
behind the drums to take lead vocals. While her vocal track on
Elephant gave the song a tentative innocence, on this night
Meg drips with confidence, infusing an entirely different air of
sultry obsession into the song. The pleasant surprise of the night
has to be the strength that Meg quietly flaunts with her drumming
unquestionably developing an ever steadier crush.

Jack couldn’t help but take over just before the encore.
He stomps through a mesmerizing down-tempo “Fell in Love with
a Girl,” before bleeding over into slow burner “Ball
and Biscuit,” where he delights in soloing one-handed just to
prove the finger is OK.

The Whites only play for a blurry hour and a half, but with
kinetic, raw versions of Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues”
and the Stripes’ own “Girl, You Have No Faith In
Medicine” echoing off the Masonic’s walls, few seemed
to mind.

Nice to see they were worth the wait.

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