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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Garage rock giants deserve larger crowd

Gates at the Gorge Amphitheatre opened to a ghost town of no lines and boarded-up concession stands for the White Stripes concert on Saturday afternoon.

A question came to mind: This is a platinum-selling band; where are all the fans?

Event staff pegged attendance at 3,500-4,000 – about 20 percent of capacity.

It raised the question of whether garage- and punk-rock, two genres born out of small clubs and intimate basement shows, belong in such a huge venue without a festival-size lineup to fill the space.

By the time the first opening act, Cincinnati band the Greenhornes, hit the stage with its professional-if-derivative 1960s sound, a small crowd hugged the stage, and most lawn spots on the terraced lower hill were taken. The main hill was empty.

All-female Northwest punk-rock staple Sleater-Kinney woke up the sun-soaked crowd with an awesome set, blazing through a 15-minute jam session during its last song – complete with two folks dressed as a horse and a chicken shaking tail onstage – which evolved into a riotous version of “Entertain,” from the group’s latest album, “The Woods.”

By the end of Sleater-Kinney’s set, the crowd started to fill the floor area, waiting for the White Stripes’ road crew, dressed from head to toe in black suits with red ties, to roll out the red carpet and finish prepping the black Steinway grand piano, red kettle drums, the elephantine red xylophone with huge white pipes, Jack White’s three customized vintage tube amps (two Silvertone, one Fender) and white clamshell lights.

The clamshell lights were a signal that this wasn’t a concert, it was a full-on rock performance.

Then the venue lights went out before the stage was flooded with smoke and white light, as Jack and Meg White ripped into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.”

For a short hour, the White Stripes tore through hits, including a high-octane version of their current single, “Blue Orchid,” and an up-tempo take on “Hotel Yorba,” the retro, Arlo Guthrie-esque track from “White Blood Cells,” as the pair played off each other almost as if performing a long-lost rock ‘n’ roll mating dance.

The high point in the show came when Jack White broke out the slide guitar for a nearly 10-minute version of “Death Letter” from the group’s sophomore album, “De Stijl.” Intensity doesn’t describe it.

At one point he threw his guitar down, fell to his knees without missing a beat and ripped riffs from the guitar as it lay on the stage.

After the encore break, Jack White sat at the Steinway and sang a cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Whispering Sea,” which was met by lighters up front.

After a heavy version of “Seven Nation Army,” the pair clasped hands and bowed to the crowd.

“My sister and I love you. Good night,” Jack White said. All class.

So, the crowd never crept more than a dozen or so yards up the big lawn. Does that mean the White Stripes don’t belong at the Gorge?

Nope. It just means 16,000 people missed out on a great show.

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