Live in LA

Photos by Wild Don Lewis

at the Greek Theater, August 17

Under an evil seven-eighths-full moon, things verged on the weird — like pretty good weird, but maybe not as really, really weird as you know the White Stripes can be.

Detroit brother Jack White and sister Meg White hit their marks and, right away, with just Jack’s guitar-piano-marimba-voice and Meg’s trash-can drums (and Jack’s pretty cool bolero hat and striped black flares), the sound up here in the rafters seemed a bit thin. As always, the lack of bass was a matter of fine adjustment on our part — and remember, that “problem” is unproblematic on the duo’s fine LPs, where the minimal production touches distract toward the high quality of the songs and musicianship.

The Stripes’ reaaallll looonnng set focused on the amazingly grand new Get Behind Me Satan. Jack’s outstanding Robert Plant imitation was especially comical on “My Doorbell,” the current video and single, which Jack pulled off with slightly desperate squeaky aplomb as he juggled vocal and keyboard duties. On his regular returns to slide-ax, a lotta lurching decelerandos and fancy footwork perked and cranked the set out from under occasional flags in momentum.

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Good to see that the masses have embraced the White Stripes, who remain solidly against the routine rock grain. For example, Meg White really rushes the beats, but you can easily hear that she’s a great rock drummer, since it’s how Jack plays off her that gives the pair their perpetual-garage distinctiveness. At two points, framing the arc of the presentation like a playlet, Meg pounded the tymps while singing the “Women, listen to your mothers” ditty from “Passive Manipulation.” Meanwhile, warn’t much shuck & jive from Jack, the phenomenally gifted blues-DNA guitarist and chameleonic impressionist-singer; he limited his patter to those half-muttered Elvis-type obliqueries that seem to come so (un)naturally to him. Whether the White Stripes’ intimacy translates to large venues is questionable; a Stripes performance can feel like an endurance contest, stretched out further this night with Beck’s rather tepid guest performance on bass and singing on a couple of tunes. The Whites, however, showed awesome reserves of energy in repeatedly relaunching the thing skyward, as on a psychotic cover of Leadbelly’s“Boll Weevil.”

The idea that Jack White needs a real band to fully realize his vision was palpable in the air, but that thought has permeated every Stripes performance I’ve seen for five years. I’d suggest otherwise: Seeing them live is, just like listening to their records, all about using your mind to fill in the holes.

—John Payne

at House of Blues, August 19

Sold-out venue. Gridlock on the Strip. Herds of alpha males with gelled hair. Anorexic French-manicured Barbies. Security detail amped on attitude. It was a textbook case of amateur night. No sweat for positivity-slinging pop-rappers Black Sheep, who shamelessly plugged their new record, dropped de rigueur weed jokes, got occasionally raunchy and, thankfully, didn’t blow their wad, saving that nuclear-strength jam “The Choice Is Yours” for last.

Pudgy, unassuming Z-Trip accomplished for two solid hours what few could pull off for two minutes: the surgical enhancement of Top 40’s sacred cows into a seamless, boom-bapping mix, using nothing more than a pair of Technics, a crate of vinyl and a lethal instinct for what makes bodies rock. The New Yorker-Arizonan-Angeleno was too generous, though, giving up precious set time to guests including an MC who spat in that tired-ass motormouth style and a Cockney performance artist whose air-turntabling and beatboxing went on too long. Z’s selections from Shifting Gears were predictable, but that record’s homage to the juvenile ritual of Saturday-morning cartoons (including some chick throwing boxes of sugary cereal into the audience) was a swell encore. When he yelled, “Yo, save the Frosted Flakes for me,” some would call it cute. Those who know Z-Trip would call it being real.

—Andrew Lentz

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