MONTERREY, Mexico — The Spaniards came to this desert area some 400 years ago to spread the Good Word. On Wednesday, a couple of gringos named Jack and Meg White came here to spread the word of Satan.
Unfortunately, the White Stripes' efforts to promote their forthcoming album here were mired by Mexico's most beloved sport: soccer. The half-full occupancy at Auditorio Coca-Cola apparently was a consequence of scheduling the show on the same day as the Mexican Cup semifinals — Monterrey's two soccer teams both had home matches.
"Soccer is a religion here," said Federico Lobeira, a 22-year-old native. "The White Stripes can't compete with that."
But a disappointing turnout didn't deter the Stripes from playing their first show for Get Behind Me Satan with all-out fervor and grit. Before a backdrop emblazoned with a shimmering red apple suspended over a black river and white palm trees, the Detroit duo gave south-of-the-border fans their first peek at the album's beautiful, bruising and baffling collection of songs (see "White Stripes Album Preview: Confounding Satan Both Loud And Subtle").
"My name is Jack White, and this is my big sister, Meg," a black-clad Jack told the crowd, still upholding White Stripes lore that the pair are siblings (the truth was uncovered long ago that they are actually ex-spouses). "This is the first show we've played in a very long time."
While hits like "Fell in Love With a Girl" and "Seven Nation Army" naturally drew the strongest reactions, the new material easily secured the most riveting moments of the night. Early on came "Blue Orchid" (the first single), which began with Meg, sporting a red flower in her hair, gyrating rather salaciously as she pummeled her kick drum. The moment the song shifted into full gear, with Jack joining her on guitar, was a prime example of the appeal of the White Stripes live — two people making all that noise with just one drum set and one guitar. While proving that less is more — or, as they say in Mexico, "menos es mejor que más" — they showed just how massive less can be.
Other Satan songs managed to capture the crowd with their ability to create suspense and keep the crowd guessing. The odd little ditty "My Doorbell" featured Jack at the keyboards, broodingly singing, "When you gonna ring it? When you gonna ring it?" to the point that his agitated piano chords started sounding like Amadeus after he went nuts. Later, the temperamental lullaby "The Nurse," featuring Jack rocking the marimba, moved almost mazelike as it built and released tension, finally exploding into a wild and ruthless jam. As Meg attacked her kit like a cold-blooded killer, Jack continued to try and reassure, promising, "I'm never gonna let you down."
But the sweetness didn't always turn sour. "Little Ghost," obviously inspired by Jack's recent work with country great Loretta Lynn, featured the frontman on mandolin and Meg joining in on the chorus. The tune led nicely into White Blood Cells' "We're Going to Be Friends," which saw Jack looking amused — and maybe even touched — when the crowd began to gently clap along.
When encore time came, "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)," off Satan, proved charming, with Jack crooning about missing his mama. But even more endearing was the final number of the night, the blues classic "The Boll Weevil Song," which has become a favorite closer for the Stripes.
"If anyone asks you who sang you this song, you tell 'em it was Jackie White," the singer shouted during the final verse.
While the Stripes were generous with Satan material, they didn't play one of the album's standouts, "Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)." Perhaps it was omitted because it would have been one too many slow songs for a hard-rockin' band, or perhaps it was because the song easily conjures Jack's newlywed ex-girlfriend Renée Zellweger, whether or not it's actually about her. If Jack had been looking forward to escaping the hoopla over her wedding to country star Kenny Chesney, he didn't go far enough: Zellweger's marriage was splashed across the front page of the local newspaper's entertainment section while this show was relegated to page 11.
First national soccer matches steal your show's thunder, then your ex's unexpected marriage steals your headline. No one said playin' the blues was easy.
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