It seemed odd that Jack White would apologize to the crowd of 600 inside Iqaluit’s Arctic Winter Games Arena.
After all, it’s hardly the White Stripes’ fault that the city’s fire marshal capped the number of tickets for Wednesday night’s show at the decommissioned hockey rink at 600, even though the room could have easily held more than 1,000.
“We wanted to let more people in the but the fire marshal said ‘nuh-uh,'” Jack told the audience, who loudly booed municipal officials as rock crowds are wont to do. “Man, I don’t want anybody to catch fire.”
It might have been too late. The Detroit duo was in full gear by their third song, an incendiary rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene that kicked straight into the heavy, riff-laden title track of the band’s new album Icky Thump, and the already-sweaty sea of faces was bobbing along in time.
The new material was the strongest. I’m Slowly Turning Into You featured an extended slide-guitar solo, dropping away to almost nothing and then storming back to an explosive finish, with Jack channelling Robert Plant through his strutting and hair-tossing.
The rollicking Little Cream Soda ended with squalls of feedback and Jack knocking down the microphone next to Meg’s drum kit, nearly hitting her with it.
With a setup of five microphones and three keyboards, the White Stripes’ stage takes on a kitchen-like quality, with Jack bounding around like a crazed chef, throwing in ingredients as needed. The band plays without a set list, with Jack using hand signals and facial cues to communicate the next manoeuvre to Meg.
They’re tight, no question, though sometimes it doesn’t quite work, as when Jack hauled Meg out from behind the drum kit to play an ad lib keyboard breakdown halfway Seven Nation Army. But Meg forgot the notes, prompting cheers from the crowd nonetheless.
The Stripes won the hearts of Iqaluit music fans just by coming North of 60, making the the two-chord rocker We’re Going To Be Friends cheerfully redundant.
It’s easily the biggest show the rocky, treeless town of 6,500 has ever seen, prompting even Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq – who dressed in the White Stripes’ colours of red, white and black – to turn up.
The band had a taste of Northern culture earlier in the day, sitting down with Inuit elders for a feast of raw caribou on what was likely little sleep, thanks to the 22 hours of daylight that is a feature of Arctic summers.
“It’s hard to tell when it’s night around here,” Jack said.
So it was a night of first all around, with what might have been Nunavut’s first-ever mosh pit forming briefly during the four-song encore. As Jack and Meg stood at the foot of the stage, waving a large Nunavut flag, the smuggled digital cameras came out, capturing the moment for posterity.
It’s no surprise the people of Iqaluit want to savour that sight. They probably won’t see the likes of the White Stripes again for a long, long time.