RIYL: Going to White Stripes concerts
Recorded throughout their 2007 Canadian tour, Under The Great White Northern Lights doubles as the White Stripes’ first live album and as the soundtrack to the tour documentary of the same name. A Canadian tour may be an unlikely source from which to cull live material, but it’s clear that Jack and Meg have enthusiasm for their neighbors to the north, since they absolutely shredded it for them.
Under Great White Northern Lights accurately conveys the manic, almost primal, energy of a White Stripes concert. The way the two tear through “Let’s Shake Hands” and “Blue Orchid” is brutal, Meg pounds every beat like it’s her last and Jack practically tears the guitar to pieces with every riff and yells every line with such sincerity and intensity that they all sounds like personal insults directed the person whom he hates the most. The spiteful “Citizen Kane”-inspired jibes of “The Union Forever” sound just as scornful and hate-filled as they did when they first recorded that song nearly 10 years ago. If Jack and Meg are sick of this material, they sure as hell aren’t showing it.
But when they are sick of a song it sure shows. Rightfully tired of “Fell in Love with a Girl,” they try to turn it into a slow jam to mix things up, but without the manic riff that’s present on the album version, that song just falls apart. They also try to turn it into a sing-along during the chorus but throughout most of the album the Canadians suck at audience participation. Their delays in prompted singing cause more than one stumble in Jack’s pacing and when it comes time for quiet songs like “We Are Going to Be Friends” they just don’t know when the hell to shut up. A gaggle of screamers ruin that recording, drowning out Jack’s heartfelt lyrics with constant high-pitched squealing. It’s unbearably annoying.
But when the audience shuts up and when Jack and Meg don’t radically deviate from the source material in distracting ways, there’s little to complain about on this album. Sure, it’s easy to whine about some notable omissions (no “Hotel Yorba,” “The Hardest Button to Button” or “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground,” for instance) but instead focus on the rarities that are included. The Dolly Parton classic “Jolene” has been a live staple for the White Stripes since their inception, and this marks the first time it’s been included on an album proper. Same goes for “Let’s Shake Hands,” which was the band’s first release as a single back in 1998. Hardcore fans will more likely care about that than the bigger well-known tracks that are excluded. In fact, what’s probably most maddening about Under Great White Northern Lights is that it’ll have you jonesing even more for new White Stripes. The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs just aren’t cutting it anymore. (Third Man 2010)