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White Beast

Detroit-City rockers bring their juggernaut sound to the Bay

Webster's English Dictionary defines a simple machine as "any of various elementary mechanisms formerly considered as the elements of which all machines are composed--including the lever, the wheel and axle, the pulley, the inclined plane, the wedge, and the screw." In rock-and-roll speak, this translates into the sound of the White Stripes: raw, powerful, and 100% bullshit-free.

Encumbered for too long by sad sack wankers like Coldplay and yes, Radiohead, rock music is once again strutting its sweaty, smelly stuff. The Detroit-based White Stripes, an unlikely brother-and-sister duo (specifically Jack and Meg White), formed in 1997 after Jack's first group, the Upholsters, fell apart. Jack, who sings and plays guitar, needed a drummer fast; and on a whim, he invited his kid sister, Meg, to help fill in. It turned out to be a wise move, because over the span of the next three years, the super siblings would produce two LPs, a bevy of 7" singles, and a rabid cult following to boot.

Their 1998 self-titled debut whittled down rock music to its very core: riotous and electric. It was a sound that erupted with porous energy. On tracks like "Johnny Rebel" and "Big Three Killed My Baby", Jack White stretched his vocals from shrill screams to husky grumbles in a matter of seconds. The ripe twentysomething of a voice shocked listeners with its uncanny semblance to the sound of a young Robert Plant. It's a comparison he hates. "You know, I liked Led Zeppelin when I was younger and I feel bad for saying this," he remarked last year at the Bottom of the Hill, "but I never liked Robert Plant's voice." Be that as it may, and as evidenced by the band's raucous live shows, it's a voice that does a rare thing in that it drives both male and female audiences wild.

Meg, the quieter, more serious side of the White Stripes, plays with the same type of zeal--albeit a cantankerous, "what-the-fuck-are-you-looking-at" zeal. Her drumming elicits both laughter and awe, for it is at once rudimentary and primal. It's a jagged, explosive sound that has helped build the backbone of the band's guttural aesthetic.

In 2000, the band leap-frogged sounds with their second full-length album, De Stijl--the title of which was based on an early 20th century art movement based on simple, rectangular forms and primary colors. The LP set the stage for what was ultimately an adventure in two classic American narratives: folk music and Mississippi delta blues. Grimy was replaced with twangy, but the simple rock-driven sensibility remained. Now in 2001, the band is wrapping up their 3rd album, tentatively titled White Blood Cells. "That's cells with a 'C'," Jack remarked this year in Rolling Stone regarding the recent barrage of major-label courtship.

One can expect a smattering of new tunes at their May 12th Fillmore performance. And based on their headline appearance earlier this year at Noise Pop 2001, audiences should anticipate the same type of raw power that made them the highlight of the festival.