Jack White Live at Garden Bowl Lounge, 2001

Jack White

LISTEN NOW: Garden Bowl Lounge, Detriot, MI, June 3rd, 2001

By Ben Blackwell

The weekend had been a whirlwind…the slightly odd outdoor college gig on the Columbus campus of Ohio State at dusk on Friday night followed by the third time in nine months that the Stripes were onstage at Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky on Saturday evening…pretty sure it was the first run of gigs in the brand new 2001 model Dodge van that Jack and Meg had bought from the dealership for straight cash. I sold merch out of the back of the van in Columbus, Weezer’s “Green Album” was listened to on the drive, the band goofed on the Gories’ “Rat’s Nest” on Friday night…these are the few memories that are still retrievable two decades on.

We made our way back to Detroit with a tad bit of urgency, as there was an interview with Ralph Valdez on WDET radio on Sunday night followed by this performance at the Garden Bowl Lounge, booked under the name “John Gillis” with hopes of notifying some people while not tipping off ALL people.

In my memory, Brendan Benson was doing sound or at least some approximation of it. There may have even been a newly purchased PA for the occasion, but still, that room is a hard one to get the sound just right. Compared to previous Jack White performances in this spot, it felt a hair more subdued…no other musicians, no feral screaming, still that same electric hum, but more a calming exercise than some attempt to prove something or win folks over.

Jack first played the Garden Bowl Lounge, solo, in November 1998 and in the intervening three years he would play there no less than five additional times in various configurations. The June 3rd, 2001 show is, seemingly, the last time he’d play this intimate setting where he’d spent so much time, both socially and on stage, that time and the experience gained used to propel himself from local up-and-coming musician to internationally renowned ROCK STAR.

That being said, I am hard-pressed to find or recall ANY set by Jack White, in any incarnation or band, that is as varied and unique as this Garden Bowl gem. A layover, stopoff, way station…in my eyes, something that just had to be done as a means to get to the better things in the not-so-distant future. The metaphorical closing of one door so that fifty more could open.

All these years later, I’m legitimately surprised to find out that this evening is likely the first-ever live performance of “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman.” The take here is charmed…almost as if Jack had never even tried to tackle it without the beating heart electric piano that pumps throughout the recorded version…having to find his footing on the fly but never tipping his hand to the struggle.

Coupled with an early live outing of “We’re Going To Be Friends” and solid runs through tried-and-true (at least in Detroit) songs “Hotel Yorba” and “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” along with “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket” a good two years before the band would record it and those are the only de facto White Stripes songs shared this evening. The majority of the set is a phalanx of covers which almost reads as a road map as to where the future would lead.

Like “Rated X”…the Loretta Lynn-penned polemic here is plain but pointed, the live from the Hotel Yorba version would be recorded within a week and end up as a b-side from the Stripes come November.

Or “Cold Brains”…on this evening all contemplative and compelling, while just over a year later and an hour up the road Jack would perform it live with its writer Beck at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.

Or “Baby Blue”…the 1958 Gene Vincent rockabilly gem, which soon after this performance found its way into Stripes sets and in seven weeks time would wrap up, on a lark, their first ever session for John Peel, as earlier that evening Peel had mentioned his appreciation for Vincent in passing.

“Who’s To Say…”  had been a staple of Two Star Tabernacle’s sets during their brief 1997-1999 existence. The song was written by White’s Two Star bandmate Dan Miller and would see its debut release via Miller’s group Blanche on a 7-inch on my imprint Cass Records. Released “summer 2003” (I’m terrible with non-Stripes timelines) and complete with a stellar guest guitar solo from White, the Stripes’ version would follow close behind as the flipside to their “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” single in September 2003.

“Fragile Girl” was originally written by Dean Fertita and performed in his group the Waxwings, who joined the White Stripes on their West Coast tour in July 2001. Fertita would later perform with White in the Raconteurs and then as bandmates in the Dead Weather. White’s pre-song anecdote speaks to his endearing mishearing of the lyric “to unveil a vision” as “television” and its ability to break up a couple or bring them closer together.

The middle of the set is thick with blues and folk covers. White’s tackling of “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues” is arguably the highlight of the entire performance. The daft deathbed storytelling is accompanied by insistently accelerating guitar…from slow, to trot, to rollicking…as the listed litany of last requests piles up, the specter of impending death is palpable, as if there’s a rush to get all these thoughts out before Death wields its mighty scythe.

The folk standard “Black Jack Davey” tells its tale with an austerity of words, which would later make an appearance as the b-side to “Seven Nation Army” in roughly two years time.

“In My Time Of Dying” likely shows up on White’s radar via Zeppelin’s 1975 version. In the context of his performance here, both Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 original (titled “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed) and Dylan’s well-known take from 1962 seem to figure prominently.

White’s version barely hits the ninety second mark when, right before the start of the third verse, he pivots into Blind Willie McTell’s “Lord, Send Me An Angel.” Curiously, the first word of that third verse is “Lord” and I can’t help but think this was a purposeful connection between the two done on Jack’s part.

For me, being in the crowd for this performance was a treat…these were all songs that kinda felt like they’d just been floating in the ether for the past couple years. Things that’d be goofed on, messed with, maybe never fully explored yet. In the spirit of that, at approximately 3:14 mark of “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” you can hear my distant voice yell “Hypnotize!” from the bar.

Jack had written the song roughly three years earlier as a “gift” to local band the Hentchmen. He’d come up with the idea that was vaguely in their musical wheelhouse, recorded a demo where he played all the instruments, and then shared it with them to ultimately…end up having the White Stripes do a version for “Elephant.”

Having heard that demo at the time and likely nothing of it in the intervening three years…I was just hoping to hear it again. My request went unanswered and I’d end up waiting another eight months or so before the Stripes started playing it live.

A recording of this show made by taper Brian Rozman seemed to be available in trading circles pretty quickly after the performance. The quality is solid. A few years back when gathering disparate master tapes for our vault, a DAT of this show recorded by Brendan Benson landed on my lap. Having been previously in the dark about its existence, I was happy to hear it was even better quality than the respectable audience tape…yet failed to capture the entirety of the performance.

So with the help of our crack mastering engineer Bill Skibbe, we stitched those two recordings together and gave the whole thing a proper mastering clean up for the audio you listen to today, just two weeks shy of its twentieth anniversary.

The Garden Bowl Lounge looks largely unchanged now from how it was back in 2001. There’s a new coat of paint on the walls, the random black and blue linoleum flooring has been replaced. But if you get in the cozy little nook where Jack was set-up on that calm Sunday night in 2001 and look up, you’ll see the same checker pattern black and white ceiling tiles, having held that spot for Lord knows how long.

Jack White’s preparatory setlist for the evening

Jack White’s transcription of “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues” lyrics

Jack White’s transcription of “Fragile Girl” lyrics

Metro Times review of the performance

ARE TEENAGE DREAMS SO HARD TO BEAT?

By Ben Blackwell, The White Stripes archivist and drummer for Jack White And The Bricks:

I was never legally old enough to enter the Gold Dollar when it was a functioning rock and roll club.

From my first visit on June 6th, 1998 (The White Stripes opening for Dura-Delinquent) until my final time through the front door on August 8th, 2001 (my band the Dirtbombs playing as a kick-off to a West Coast tour) I spanned the ages of 15 through 19. For insurance purposes, the bar was a 21-and-over establishment. But whether by carrying amps, playing the drums or just earnestly convincing whomever was working the door that I legitimately had no interest in consuming alcohol…I was able to see no less than two dozen shows there. 

As likely the youngest person to have been a witness/participant in the music scene at the Gold Dollar…I am well aware that I was DAMN lucky to have done so. That may be the coolest thing I am ever even remotely adjacent to and truly embracing it I feel simultaneous both proud and depressed. Most people who peak as teenagers do so as some sort of high school football/cheerleader/big shot on campus bullshit…all things that I was expressly avoiding at that time. Yet, here I am, over twenty years later, still talking about the group that had a half-dozen mildly attended performances within a nuclear blast radius of each other, across five months of 1999 like it’s goddamned “Glory Days” and I’m Bruce stepping back from the mic so that the crowd can shout along the words to the chorus.

Tony Soprano saying “Remember when is the lowest form of conversation” fucked me up more than any other dialog in my life. I feel like I am constantly fighting with myself. Fighting to appropriately appreciate and contextualize the past and at the same time, attempting to downplay it, hoping that I’m currently living something that will be worthwhile to recollect in another twenty years. 

While I weirdly never felt like “The Bricks” (a name we’d never called ourselves and were never referred to as when we were actually performing) were a real band, I was, by far, the weakest player in the group of otherwise professionals. I had yet to join the Dirtbombs and prior to my gigs with the Bricks I had played MAYBE three shows in front of a crowd. One of those was a high school battle of the bands. Another in a bowling alley lounge. You know…inconsequential shit.
So while an audience recording of this show existed in tape trading circles since immediately after the performance, this multi-track soundboard recording proved revelatory in what had been unheard to my ears since that night. The opening of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” shined through with Brendan Benson’s striking countermelodies on guitar, all but nonexistent on the audience tape. When the opening lyrics came through I was confused…” Why is Brendan singing?” The delivery is unmistakably him, though through years and years of listening on a lo-fi tape I’d never noticed Brendan sang the first two lines…

Dead leaves and the dirty ground when I know you’re not aroundShiny tops and soda pops when I hear your lips make a sound…

Only to have Jack jump in, with gusto, guts, glory, and the response to Brendan’s call..

When I hear your lips make a sound!

I’m not exaggerating here…when I first heard this, clear as daylight, I choked up a bit. I think it’s beautiful and feels like a truly moving moment just accidentally happened to be caught on tape that night.

Although I play drums here, I have few clear memories of what went down that evening. Royal Trux, the headliners, were late to arrive. I believe they showed up after we’d finished our set. My mom was there. It was a school night. I was seventeen years old. Pretty sure I got paid. That’s about it. My entire time in the band I was just making a very poor attempt to play drums like Patrick Keeler. Why I thought I could approximate his style is beyond me, and I often compare myself to Billy Yule playing drums in the last-gasp iteration of the Velvet Underground. I really shouldn’t have been on stage or in this band, but am forever grateful and happy that I was.

The setlist features a couple of songs that aren’t on the Bricks live recording from the Garden Bowl two months prior, which was released as part of Third Man’s Vault #15 in 2013. “One and Two” is an original Jack White song that never ended up being used or recorded anywhere else, which is odd for him. I particularly enjoy the slippery bass playing of Kevin Peyok on this song and feel like he may well have been the glue that held the band together. “Candy Cane Children” feels odd outside of the context of the White Stripes, especially as they never really performed the song live. “Ooh My Soul” is sloppy sloppy sloppy and in my opinion, the first two chords presage what would come later via “Fell in Love With a Girl.”

All my personal caveats aside, the show is a legitimately fun listen. That weird time in ’99 where Jack just seemed like he had so much music seeping out of him that he had to hurry up and start ANOTHER band after the break-up of Two Star Tabernacle and his ousting from the Go…and that band seeming to be COMPLETELY different from either of those outfits or the White Stripes even. I can’t help but stress here, besides “Candy Cane Children” NONE of these songs would’ve been considered “White Stripes” songs at the time of this performance. They were “Jack White” songs that hadn’t truly found their form or footing in the duo format. 

Originally included as part of our 27th Vault package back in the first quarter of 2016, the audio here is newly remastered by Bill Skibbe at Third Man Mastering…a facility only blocks away from the Gold Dollar address at 3129 Cass Avenue.

As part of my duties at Third Man Records, I was able to enter what remained of the Gold Dollar building on “official business” not long after the original release of this show. Clad in a hard hat and joined by folks representing the Illitch family that owned the spot…it was a sad collection of four walls, dirt floor, and collapsing ceiling. The idea was to try and see if there was some sort of collaboration that Third Man could spearhead to rehab the building. But damn…all I could think of was that besides the walls, there was no “there” there. As someone who had MANY formative nights in that space and saw more than my fair share of transformative performances on that stage AND could possibly help revitalize it…I was unmoved. I’d rather let the memories exist as they were than invoke a Ship of Theseus experiment. Though I did take solace in the fact that I had finally entered the building legally. 

On July 22nd, 2019, the structure would meet its ultimate demise in a suspected arson, the news of which no less than a dozen people felt compelled to immediately share with me. Developers reached out to me directly asking if Third Man would be interested in trying to rebuild/recreate the spot. Dare I even mention that there was talk of Third Man getting the building for a $1/year lease prior to the fire? And that we weren’t interested then?
When asked by the Metro Times to comment on the fire at the time I said, “History like what happened at that club, for me, transcends the buildings it happened in. I’m sure there were probably at least five other fires in Detroit today that were far more tragic. Life goes on. This too shall pass. Memories are all that matter.”

I stand by that statement. I think I was unemotional about the fire because I actually had the vague “closure” of being able to walk through that room one last time. Bar missing, mirrors behind the stage disintegrated, finally able to go backstage for the first time (no one ever told me there was a backstage!)…the only sign music ever happened there being a destroyed Half Japanese / Godzuki / Wild Bunch handbill I’d dug out from underneath where the security monitors were. Otherwise…it was just a space, empty for 15 years, left to the ravages of time and the elements and scrappers and squatters and in desperate need of being demolished. You know…a regular building in Detroit.

So here’s to the memory of the Gold Dollar, to club owner Neil Yee for being wise enough to hit “record” so many times, to the sublime summer of ’99, to peaking early, to electric nights of loose rock and roll, played for no one you didn’t know, figuring it all out in the process, working on mysteries without any clues, crystalline and idealized in my mind, me unaware of how clueless I actually was at the time, feeling like there was nothing but opportunity, potential and promise that lay ahead. 

While youth may be wasted on the young, why are teenage dreams so hard to beat? I think memories, true, deep, stay-with-you-the-rest-of-your-life-because-they’re-fundamental-to-your-ever-so-fragile-sentience MEMORIES are only thrust onto those who are both sufficiently eager and receiving. Old guys who only talk about old times have closed off their receptors, failing to continue as memory collectors. Scientists say that humans aren’t the only beings that recollect, that rats can have episodic memory, but I doubt those vermin are ever troubled by it. Yet the tenuous balance between nostalgia and living in the moment shows no signs of subsiding in my consistently evolving superego…with all indications that my final actions, final words, and final thoughts on this mortal coil will almost certainly be some act of reminiscing.
I hope when I get older I don’t sit around thinking about it, but I probably will.
You know…glory days.

-Ben Blackwell

February 17th 2021