Two weeks ago, while waiting for the bus at the corner of Sevastopol’skii and Nakhimovskii prospect, I noticed a big billboard of the Jack and Meg White from The White Stripes. To my surprise they were playing one night in Moscow to promote their new album, Get Behind Me Satan. I excitedly noted down the website to order tickets and promptly did so when I got home. 800 rubles (about $26)? No problem. Considering tickets for their show at the Greek Theater in LA were around $40, I was willing to pay up to $35. Plus seeing the Detroit duo in Moscow added a special incentive. How often can you see the White Stripes in Moscow? I ordered two tickets and told my friend Maya that she was going whether she liked it or not. Surprisingly, I was able to convince two more grad students to plop down the money and join us.
It was raining the day of the show. I hesitate to say night because it doesn’t get dark here until around 11:30 pm. Plus the show started at 7:00, hardly the standard 9:00 pm of shows in the U.S. I assumed the early time was because the Stripes were playing St. Petersburg the next night, which is a good 6 hour train ride from Moscow. Let me tell you, it’s pretty strange leaving a concert and it still be light out. Anyway, yes raining, as it has been off and on for the last two weeks, and when we approached Klub Mekhanika, we came upon a large crowd waiting to get into the show. You could hear five languages emanating from the crowd: Russian, English, German, French, and even some Italian. It took us about 20 minutes to get inside. Luckily, the rain broke into a light drizzle.
Located near metro Avtozavodskaia (Auto factory), Klub Mekhanika is well located but badly placed. Not only does its moniker from the car motif, the place looks like it used to be a giant car garage. It is also adjacent to the “Tret’e transportnoe kol’tso,” or the third ring highway that circles the city. Klub Mekhanika claims to hold 2000 people, but I estimate that there were close to 3000. Plus there is no reason to believe that the Russians abided by any building code, if there are such things. The stuffy air was the combined stench of sweat, cigarette smoke, and Moscow. It was impossible to swim through the thick crowd to reach the middle so we settled to stand in the back. Our glimpses of Jack and Meg were sporadic. The six roof supporting columns and the several Russian girls perched on their man’s shoulders did help the view either. The place was so hot that in the middle of the performance, Jack sarcastically asked, “Do you want us to turn up the heat in here?”
The Stripes started relatively on time, around 7:30. A miracle according to Maya, because when she saw Front 242 there two months ago, they didn’t go on until 9:00. Jack and Meg came up to the roar of the crowd dressed in their trademark attire. Meg was in red pants and sleeveless white shirt. Jack in red pants and a black t-shirt. The only difference was the addition of the top hat he sports on the cover of the new album. Meg thumped her bass drum twice. Jack lightly strummed his guitar and then broke into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” At first the sound was shit but was properly leveled by the time they played “Apple Blossom.” I can’t remember the entire track list order, but I remembered that including the aforementioned, they played: Blue Orchid, One More Cup of Coffee, Hotel Yorba, The Hardest Button to Button, The Nurse, Little Ghost, I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet), The Denial Twist, Stop Breaking Down, Passive Manipulation, Red Rain, I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself, and Seven Nation Army. “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” was by far the most amazing. The whole crowd sang the chorus, leaving Jack silent. Jack’s responded, “See they can speak English.” It was one of those great concert moments when everyone was in harmony with the band.
Plus, Jack just puts on an amazing performance. He truly becomes possessed by his blues. He runs around, drops to the floor, and writhes with the sounds screeching from his guitar. Meg’s drums were great, despite charges to the contrary by Sasha Frere-Jone’s in an otherwise fair and interesting review of Get Behind Me Satan in the New Yorker.
It was a treasure to see them in Russia. Apparently it wasn’t easy for them to come here. At one point Jack said, “My sister and I always wanted to come and play Russia, but we were told it was too expensive to fly the entire crew and equipment. Well, thanks to many people, especially the people you see around dressed in suits and derbies, we were able to do it, because they volunteered their labor and are working for free. Give them a round of applause. . .” The crowd didn’t disappoint. And neither did Jack and Meg.