De Stijl Our Hearts

The sun-soaked crowd—media hipsters, hooky-players, Berliniamsburghers, viral-market targets, secretaries who loved Secretary—were makin' the scene with their coffee and cream last Tuesday noon in Union Square to hear the White Stripes bash the workday in half. That the surprise goodwill gig was actually a publicity stunt for Nissan didn't dim the thrum and bliss—starting from the moment a carousel intro gave way to Jack White's amp feeding back squealy adulation.

Exes, siblings, or just your most coveted three-way fantasy since Thurston and Kim, sudden sweethearts of the "rock's back" rodeo, Meg and Jack White laid hard into "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," genderbent Dolly Parton's "Jolene," and cherry-picked from their own back catalog. The crowd dug "Apple Blossom" and "Sugar Never Tasted So Good," but really went berserk for faves like "Hotel Yorba" and "You're Pretty Good Lookin' (For a Girl)." Like an English bluesman on a Dee-troit graveyard shift, Jack howled his Zoso-lovin' heart out, cranking into overdrive as Meg rode her cymbals with caffeinated commitment. And despite Port Authority heavies blustering about permits, as it was all going down you really had to wonder why bands don't do this all the time.

At the height of the teasing penultimate Delta medley—one country-blues riff stringing together bits of songs by the likes of the Premiers and Flamin' Groovies—when the Stripes were just about to explode into "Fell in Love With a Girl," antsy authorities pulled the plug. But it was all good. Jack screamed a pissy "Boll Weevil" sans twang, and folks droned back to desk-land. Best image: Meg's bare feet padding down the aluminum steps, onto offstage Astroturf, her long pigtails swinging as she turned to smile, glance Jackward, and disappear into the coolness of her clamorous ride. —Laura Sinagra

Somebody Say Gumbo?

Jazz and Juilliard have been curse words in each other's vocabularies since Miles Davis dropped out—and slammed the place in his autobiography: "At Juilliard, I'd sleepwalk through them sorry-ass classes, bored to tears." So when trombonist Wycliffe Gordon recently assumed joint control of the brand-new Juilliard Institute for Jazz Studies, he inherited years of political tension—and in what may be an aesthetic consequence of the strain, led the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra through a program of cautious, benign swing during last Wednesday's polite season opener.

The group paid "tasteful" tribute to Ellington's post-Strayhorn songbook, reducing Bubber Miley's growling trumpet solos to safely swinging exercises that fell off the bandstand before they hit the middle row. Most soloists seemed more interested in looking for Gordon's approval out of the corners of their eyes than telling powerful narratives through the bells of their horns. Even on "Braziliance," an Ellington tune purchased from the Smithsonian Institute expressly for this performance (read: $$$), the group translated Duke's rhythms so properly and soberly that Duke himself would have tipped his hat and found an exit.

The second set redeemed the first, however, turning rote swing into gripping ballads that filled the room with stinging chords, honeyed harmonies, and something Ken Burns left off his list of essential jazz aesthetics: abrasive, real-time aggression. Ryan Redden must have found God (or a Powerbar) during intermission, because he returned for the second set, aimed his saxophone high and his ambitions higher, and belted chorus after chorus of furious prayer to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Ornette Coleman. Redden raged against the evening's formula with nerve and sinus-clearing urgency. Only gusto like his could propel Juilliard jazz beyond post-cocktail-party nostalgia. —Daniel King

Pretty Road Cases

While Steve Earle, Springsteen, Toby Keith, et al., wrestle with limits on aesthetic freedom in wartime, the Drive-By Truckers' never-ending tour roared into the Bowery Ballroom in late September, representing for the Southern Thang and shoutin' the U.S. Blues. Lit by blue and red stars a week to the day beyond 9-11 memorials, the 'Bammy-bred Truckers' own volatile worldview was reflected in the stark iconography of their stage backdrop (by Wes Freed of the Shiners)—barren, foggy swamp, yellow devil moon, a hoot owl of mysterious portent, and a flying car driven by a skeleton raising his glass to eternal debauchery. Three guitars and a stone-funky rhythm section strong, the quintet tossed back their beers, whiskey, and wine, continuing their collective struggle with Southern heritage in anthems like "Ronnie and Neil," "Dead, Drunk, and Naked," and "Let There Be Rock". The "New York critics and redneckers" who Trucker MC Patterson Hood sings of in "Life in the Factory" were out in force, drunkenly two-stepping and throwing devil horns along with Friends-type neophytes, prime-convert bikers in Skynyrd tees, and some beatific fans from Holland, jet-setting to worship their prophets whose wheels keep a-rolling blessed by "The Living Bubba" and "Steve McQueen."

Sho' nuff, Hood, guitarist-singer Jason Isbell, and bassist Earl Hicks actually knelt before the band's prime Badass-With-Mystique Mike Cooley as Cooley's black Flying V spurred everyone on to a metallic high. Drive-By Truckers, New South kids born at the height of the civil rights movement, don't know the shadowlands many of us retreat to when the going gets rough; they remain on the "mean ole highway." And to them, as Cooley exhorted on "Shut Up and Get on the Plane": "Living in fear is just a way of dying before your time." Band pals Slobberbone opened, covering Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," recalling the dawn of bio- and eco-terrorism on these shores with sloppy force. War, what is it good for? The Southern Rock Opera and Medicine Show comes to town, lays a cure on your uptight ass, and blasts them guitars to announce the real "Return of Rock." —Kandia Crazy-Horse

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