Given the White Stripes’ reputation for powerful concerts, it’s a little surprising that they waited until more than a decade into their career to release a live album. However, Under Great White Northern Lights was worth the wait: While nothing can really replace seeing the band live, this set captures most of their riveting on-stage presence. The album was recorded during the Stripes’ 2007 Canadian tour, which was such a special experience for them that they chronicled it with a DVD as well. The band was touring in support of that year’s Icky Thump, and the Scottish and Celtic motifs that are woven throughout that album pop up here, too, from the bagpipes intro to a brisk version of “Little Ghost” that sounds almost like a reel. Like most White Stripes concerts, Under Great White Northern Lights features an evenhanded mix of early songs and newer ones -- Jack and Meg White go way back for incendiary takes on “Let’s Shake Hands” and “When I Hear My Name,” which sound right at home next to the lunging “Icky Thump” and “I’m Slowly Turning into You.” The album opens with four furious rockers that show just how primal the duo is live -- on “Black Math” and a breathless “Blue Orchid” they sound like they can barely keep up with the energy flowing through them -- but many of Under Great White Northern Lights’ brightest moments happen when they slow down. Jack and Meg settle into a groove on “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” that makes the song fresher than it was on Icky Thump, while a particularly stunning version of “The Union Forever,” with extra-desperate vocals from Jack surrounded by a swelling, horror-movie organ, just might be the album’s standout. The Stripes also include plenty of favorites, including “Jolene,” a bluesy “Fell in Love with a Girl,” a singalong “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” and a bruising “Seven Nation Army” as the finale, all of which capture the kind of show the band puts on for its fans. Since a big part of the Stripes’ live show also rests on their visuals, the Under Great White Northern Lights DVD gives the complete experience, but this album is satisfying enough to make it a must for most fans.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares