Like most other White Stripes fans, I’d been anticipating Friday’s final “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” show with a level of excitement usually reserved for Christmas morning or first sexual encounters. Their appearance on Conan’s send-off was constructed as a triumphant return after two years of total inactivity as a band, including virtually zero touring behind their latest candycane masterpiece, 2007’s Icky Thump. Jack White, delta blues wizard and devil music savant, had raised his own bar more than a few notches with The Raconteurs on last year’s Consolers Of The Lonely- and while we knew better than to expect any new material being unveiled, there was at least a universal hope that we’d see some White fire to send Conan off proper.
Instead, we were witness to Meg’s utter hackery on guitar (cleverly masked by an echo effect) and missed vocal cues in a performance that seemed designed to show the world that Meg White Isn’t Afraid Anymore (remember: all the Stripes’ plans were scrapped due to her “anxiety,” which may or may not have had something to do with this), but came off awkward and unnatural, like your big sister trying to look cool and ballsy doing karaoke. The rose falling out of her hair and catching her up a bit didn’t help matters.
It’s not that I don’t love the softer side of the Stripes, but this was supposed to have been a celebration, a jubilant ‘see you on the other side’ to Conan on his final “Late Night” performance. Jack could very well have killed the song on his own, as he has many times in the past. His vocals were nuanced, delicate and beautiful, and his end of the performance was as solid as ever. I was impressed with the subtleties in his style.
The echo effect on Meg’s guitar did little to hide her lack of ability. I feel bad for tearing into one of my very favorite bands, but Meg isn’t the star of this show. She’s there to keep a beat, and nobody’s under any illusions that she can even do that very well. Nevertheless, that’s where she should’ve been last night – behind the kit.
This was not the way to tell the world you’re back, Jack. Not when our fondest memories of you and Conan include this:
Comparing Friday night’s appearance to their earlier performances on the show is like shining a flashlight at the sun. Here’s hoping we see a lot more from the White Stripes in 2009, and that Meg stays behind the kit from now on.