Live, the White Stripes played recklessly, like Jack's guitar was literally on fire and he needed to stamp it out with his fingers. That poor six-string is going to need trauma counseling after the way Jack treats it. In he moment, with the energy of a live presence, Jack finds new places in his songs to make them all raggedy and unconventional. Not only does his guitar wail out in pain, Jack himself screams like a maniac, possessed by the music rather than performing it. This is a double-faced album: it's unpolished, but it goes out of its way to revel in its lack of polish, makes a spectacle out of it.
While some songs are played with breakneck ferocity, others are transformed in other ways, like the abbreviated, altered, organ-based "Ball and Biscuit," arguably preferable to the original studio version. "Blue Orchid" is allowed to come alive in a way it didn't on Get Behind Me Satan, and they really bring the audience into the sinews of "I'm Slowly Turning Into You." Being that this was during the tour to promote Icky Thump, tracks from that album are the most faithful; the blemished twang of "300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues" is even better live with hardly a moment changed, and "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn" is gorgeous. Speaking of gorgeous, there's "We're Going To Be Friends" and the always-showstopping cover of "Jolene." The harsher moments make the smoother ones that much better: the slowed-down version of "Fell In Love With a Girl," sounding like Joss Stone's cover, is another highlight. Ultimately, this winds up as a full-bodied performance that explores all the various extremes the band inhabited.
One of my favourite live moments on any album was on Nirvana's Live at Reading set, when they played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with their disdain for the hit well displayed, intro-ing it with Boston's "More Than A Feeling" and deliberately fumbling through it. Jack tests "Seven Nation Army," arguably his greatest creation (not necessarily his greatest song, but the work that will always loom largest) by taking it to its brink, turning it into a monster and then slaying it. If it were recorded that way in the first place, Elephant would not have been the blockbuster record it was, but to an eager crowd, it's irresistible. You buy a studio album because you like the songs, but you buy a live album because you like the artist.
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