Under Great White Northern Lights – The White Stripes

2010 –Third Man

Blues-Rock/ Alternative

This live album from blues rock band The White Stripes’ is a brilliantly energetic amalgamation of their tour across every province and territory of Canada. From the opening bagpipes as they dissolve into the distortion of Let’s Shake Hands through to the pulsating drums of Seven Nation Army this record just delivers wonderful live interpretations again and again.

The guitars are full of fuzz and Jack White’s voice is full of scream which adds a beautiful layer of liveness to the recordings and makes the listener feel almost as if they were right there in the audience. It’s just exactly what I want to hear from a live recording: something different from the studio album with human error and natural mistakes and bands sounding like they enjoy what they do for a living. That’s what I get on Under Great White Northern Lights, one can hear the fun that Jack is having as he wails his way through Little Ghost and the pleasure he gains from the audience cheering through We Are Going To Be Friends.

One downside that I would mention, however, is the minimal use of interludes between the different tracks. One track seems to suddenly stop and another begin without any of the fluidity that one might expect from a live show. This is no doubt due to the fact that the recordings for the various tracks are taken from different live shows across the country, but, still, I would liked to have heard something that didn’t draw quite as much attention to this fact. For me it detracts slightly from the feeling that one is listening to a live show and instead gives one the impression of listening to a collection of live outtakes which distances the audience somewhat from the musical experience.

I will also say that a few of the tracks run on for just that little bit too long and Jack White seems to get a little wrapt with his own guitar playing ability. Ball And A Biscuit, for example, has the air of a jam session about it, and while this is good to begin with and the band seamlessly incorporate two Robert Johnson songs into the mix (I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom and Phonograph Blues) it does drag on for quite a while and it just isn’t the same tight playing that I’m used to from The White Stripes.

These, however, are relatively small issues overall and the record is, on the whole, very good. There is enough energy on here to bring a dead gerbil back to life and the duo make enough noise with only two people to rival the greatest of stadium rock bands. All of the tracks are played as well if not better than there studio counterparts (with the exception of perhaps I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself) and there is just no denying the thrill of the crowd and the enjoyment of the band.

In conclusion I would say that Under Great White Northern Lights is really very good as a live album, or at least it is much better than a lot of the live albums I have heard in the past. I probably wouldn’t say that it’s the best White Stripes album or the best live album ever, but I would say that it is incredibly good. Anyone who calls themselves a fan of The White Stripes should probably have a copy of this if they want to keep calling themselves fans, but it’s probably not all that necessary for only casual acquaintances with the band’s work, although I would heartily recommend it if you ever have the time or inclination.

RATING: ****/5

Here is the opening track from The White Stripes’ live album ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ with a delicious bagpipe intro.


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