THE WHITE STRIPES at the Hershey Centre (5500 Rose Cherry Place, Mississauga), tonight (Thursday, November 13). Sold out. 905-502-9100. Rating: NNNNN
That jack white can blow off all interview requests on the White Stripes' current makeup tour - essentially to avoid answering questions about his relationship with screen star Renée Zellweger - says a lot about the level of rock stardom the unlikely Detroit garage superstars currently enjoy. And there's good reason why White should anticipate some Zellweger queries, since he'll be portraying a heavily sideburned Confederate deserter opposite her in the big-budget Civil War film Cold Mountain (due out Christmas Day). Also, Zellweger was involved in White's car accident in Detroit last July, which caused the White Stripes to reschedule their North American tour supporting their recent Elephant (V2) disc.
Yet you can't really blame White for wanting to sidestep the whole matter. Living with the constant threat of being upstaged by his more famous plus-one must be hard on the media darling's fragile ego.
Fortunately, he has his ex-wife and drummer, Meg White, to deal with the really difficult questions, like how's Renée?
"Oh, man," chuckles a congested Meg White from her Rio de Janeiro hotel room. "That's something I can't really discuss."
The seemingly programmed response from Meg White won't be at all surprising to some. In fact, there's a Web site (www.geocities.com/wilhelmina_wonka/ws.html) devoted to compiling evidence proving Meg White's really a machine.
Judging by her monosyllabic responses during our largely one-sided phone conversation, the theory doesn't seem too far-fetched.
"I try not to pay too much attention to all that stuff online, but I know about the Web site dedicated to the idea that I'm a robot," she says. "I can't be entirely sure it's not true, so I'd rather not comment either way."
After the bone-breaking setbacks the dynamic duo have suffered this past year, they're probably thinking that easily replaced mechanical body parts might not be such a bad idea.
The fractured wrist Meg White sustained in February proved to be far less of a problem for the group than Jack White's mashed-up finger. For a right-handed guitarist like White, any damage to his left index finger, so crucial to forming chords, can be serious trouble. His was crunched badly enough to require the insertion of three metal pins.
"My broken wrist was a pretty simple break. We actually rehearsed the day my cast came off, but Jack's injury was much more complicated. The bone between his knuckles on his left index finger was completely shattered and just wouldn't heal. He's been trying to get it to heal ever since."
White has basically had to relearn how to play the guitar.
"Because he couldn't use that finger to make chords, he had to manoeuvre around it with barre chords, substitutions or new arrangements," explains Meg White. "It took some time to deal with that, but he's doing much better now."
The White Stripes tune that has undergone the most radical revision for the current tour is Fell In Love With A Girl, although the funked-up overhaul of the fave rave had nothing at all to do with the accident.
According to Meg White, their downtempo rethink was inspired by hearing Joss Stone's booty-bumpin' cover version, Fell In Love With A Boy, on her impressive Soul Sessions (S-Curve) debut disc.
"I liked what she did with that song. It was cool. For some reason it always felt a bit odd to play that one live, so we started fooling around with it. We've slowed it down so the song has more of a groove to it."
The upside of Jack White's finger trouble is that during his recovery period he was able to produce a dream session for one of his musical idols, country hall of famer Loretta Lynn, whom he has called "the greatest singer/songwriter of the 20th century."
Apparently, the hookup happened when Lynn's daughter noticed that the White Stripes' White Blood Cells album was dedicated to Loretta. Jack and Meg were invited back to Lynn's place, and they hit it off over a home-cooked meal of chicken and dumplings. Faster than you could say "freshly baked bread," White signed on as producer.
"Loretta Lynn is a lovely person and an incredible musician. Jack put together the band for the Nashville session using the members of the Greenhorns as the rhythm section - my style of drumming wouldn't have been appropriate - but Loretta wrote all the songs herself.
"There are a few that date back to the 60s, but the ones she wrote two months ago are just as great. It's an amazing record."
The White Stripes are scheduled to play shows right through to December, which means they won't begin work on the follow-up to Elephant until the spring.
"We've been thinking a bit about what we might do on the next album, but we never plan too far ahead or work out a concept.
"We just go into the studio, play the best we can and let the songs shape the sound of the album."
So still no bass, then?
"Umm.... no, probably not."
The white stripes
While some artists from the usually supportive Detroit rock scene have been heard grousing about the press the White Stripes have been getting, if anyone really has a right to complain it's Mick Collins . Currently fronting the Dirt Bombs - who'll be blasting out tunes from their explosive new Dangerous Magical Noise (In the Red) disc at Lee's Palace Friday (November 14), the night after the White Stripes rock the sold-out Hershey Centre - the wildly charismatic Collins has played a crucial role in rebuilding the Detroit rock scene over the past 20 years.
Yet none of his influential bands, including the mighty Gories , who provided the blueprint for Danko Jones , have gotten the attention or acknowledgement they deserve.
"People keep asking me if I'm jealous of the White Stripes," says Collins, cramped in the back of a van on the road to Philadelphia. "The answer is no, I'm not. Do you think I'm going to take a baseball bat to somebody's windshield just because they're on the cover of Mojo?"
So don't count on Collins to get his tough-rockin' Dirt Bombs crew to dress up in colour-coordinated stagewear to cash in on the band uniform trend.
"Our label boss, Larry Hardy , actually suggested that we get some matching suits," roars Collins. "I had to remind him that I'd already done that three bands ago. Anyway, I know that whatever media interest in Detroit bands there is right now will soon be gone. When everyone turns their focus to the next -scene,' we'll still be here doing what we've always done."