By Ben Blackwell, The White Stripes’ official archivist
I must admit I have some difficulty writing about White Stripes shows that I wasn’t in the room for. My insight, my drive, my perspective is so driven by the experience. But this performance at the Sit & Spin (or is it Sit ‘n’ Spin…I’ve seen it both ways and it drives me crazy) from December 2000 is just one of those gigs that, even though I wasn’t there for, having listened to the tape for almost twenty years it’s locked into my psyche as a barn-burner.
First off, some details…the White Stripes played two shows at the Sit & Spin on this day. There was an earlier, all-ages show to accommodate minors who’d otherwise be left out due to Seattle’s draconian liquor and live performance laws, and a later one that same night, 21 and up performance.
Funny thing is…we don’t know which of those two shows this recording is from! If I was forced to guess, I’d imagine the later one, but I don’t have anything concrete to back that up. Just a hunch I guess.
Jack and Meg start the show with an impromptu jam. Totally made up on the spot and never to be heard from again. And honestly, for me, I think it’s bonkers good. Just the thick, muscly Jack White Airline guitar tone that was front and center in that era, power chords riffing, Meg kicking ass keeping time, lyrics a garbled mess all except for the barely discernible “Back to School” which we’ve felt was an appropriate a title as could exist for this one.
Everything else performed here feels just as sublime, rare outings for both “Slicker Drips” and “Sister, Do You Know My Name?” delight while a downright volatile run on “Hello Operator” invigorates. Jack even calls out a journalist from local weekly the Stranger in his introduction to “Truth Doesn’t Make A Noise” using the writer’s own words to introduce the tune as a “sketch of a great song.” Asking the crowd for requests and actually following through on someone’s shouting of “Astro” is unabashedly quaint here. And tying it all together with a solo rendition of “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket” to end the set is a fitting audio denouement for what stands as one of the best live recordings of the band from this year.
May’s Third Man Thursday is here just in time for the holiday weekend with a very special release. Oberlin 2000 was a cornerstone moment for The White Stripes and now the transformative show is available to stream in the nugs.net app. Ben Blackwell, The White Stripes’ official archivist returns this month with a recap of the show below.
We left Cincinnati later than we should have. A visit to Shake-It Records looms large in my memory and we definitely rolled straight to the club, Dionysus. On the campus of Oberlin College and apparently run by the students there, what could be an easy target to shit on is actually pretty damn cool. I mean, hell, the college I was enrolled in that semester wasn’t booking Sleater-Kinney.
The show itself still sticks out as one of the most transformative the White Stripes EVER played. Like if there was ever so clearly a “before” and “after” moment in the history of the White Stripes live shows, I’d push the pin firmly into the date September 16th, 2000.
I don’t recall the crowds the previous two nights (Chicago and Newport, KY) necessarily “getting” the Stripes. Sure, the performances were solid, folks may have even picked up on it a little, but they were big rooms, law of averages probably explains it. But at Dionysus, man, it’s a small room, maybe 400 capacity, and with a low stage, the space felt like a basement…hot and sweaty, probably not being utilized for its intended use and primarily populated with kids who’ve got NOTHING better to do. Receptors open, transmissions receiving…just give ’em something worthwhile and the response will be wild.
Watching from the merch table at the back of the room, you could feel the band take off. The show starts off interestingly enough (can’t ever recall “Your Southern Can Is Mine” appearing so early in a set) and from around “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” onward, its as if afterburners are on full throttle, every move just of-the-moment and powerful and important and happening right in front of your face.
After futzing around for months, the fuzz feedback mainline of “Dead Leaves” is finally firmly established in the way all would come to know and love it. “Death Letter” is the raucous rail-splitter while the placid verses of “Stop Breaking Down” achieve the song a tempered duality as leveraged by the absolute savage slide of the choruses, while the uncharacteristic off mic screaming in “One More Cup of Coffee” has you realize that mind-bending covers of Son House, Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan poured out one after the other in rapid succession, a most holy trinity of White Stripes heroes if there ever was one.
From “Astro” forward…there’s so evidently a transcendent musical connection between the two entities on stage, of the same brain, taking action without thought, a Darwinian evolution that should crawl across millennia transpiring in matter of mere minutes. On a Saturday night. In Ohio.
Listening back now, nearly 20 years later, it STILL gives me goosebumps. The way “Jack the Ripper” (a song they’d goofed on a handful of times previously) melts into “Farmer John” (a song they’d NEVER previously goofed on) and straight into, hands-down, the best version of “St. James Infirmary” the band would ever perform and arguably epicenter of the aforementioned “before” and “after” designations.
To lay ears to the recording now is to hear “St. James” evolving in real time as an arrangement heretofore unknown, just exploratory explosive accents primally bashing away as entree to the song, unrecognizable from its released version, pummeling inauspiciously into the first verse, Jack’s voice rich, full, expressive, like a vase holding ten thousand orchids hand-painted by O’Keeffe. Then completely out of left-field, Jack offers the second verse double time, damn near jazzy or show tune(ful), humbly paying respect to the roots of this Cab Calloway composition. In my recollection of the evening, I feel like I was holding my breath at this moment. As if to ask, timidly, scared, fearful of failure or catastrophic collapse “can they do it?” And wildly, with abandon, Meg is RIGHT there with him, never missing a beat for the next TWO verses. Weeks, days, shit a half HOUR early this would have been impossible. The chops were not there, the telekinetic o-mind wavelength was, previously, nonexistent. And without ever telegraphing the move, out of nowhere, Jack calls verse four back to the explosive accents, half-time, reigning it in with a delightful smirk, at this point completely showing off how shit hot he and Meg are. Just making it up as they go at this point, verse five crosses back to double time, the intensity somehow amplified, improbably kicked up a few notches and culminating into one solitary, strong expositional statement, like a goddamned full-body statue of Teddy Roosevelt, arm outstretched, pointing, confidently, ready to decimate whatever gets in the way. And that, you little maniacs, is when the White Stripes first hit that apex, as if levitating, where they could do no wrong. Exquisite beauty. The reason we are all here today.
A few songs later and unexpectedly, Jack just starts making shit up off the top of his head. We’ve labeled it “Keep On Walking (improv)” here and that, again, you lucky freaks, is the first time the White Stripes ever just made something up in front of a crowd. Said approach would be responsible for some of my personal favorite moments from the band (including “Little Cream Soda” even though I wasn’t even there to witness it in person) and straight into “Screwdriver.” Jack teases, if only for a moment, the drawn out and confrontational manner of both the MC5’s “I Just Don’t Know” and the Gories “48 Hours” and yet somehow builds upon it. Goes further. Creates distance. Catches nirvana.
Leaving the stage after said culmination, you can hear the crowd just losing it. Apeshit. The opening act, who almost certainly no one there even knew of prior to this evening. EVERYONE was urging them to return for an encore, including the members of Sleater-Kinney, who were all but pushing Jack and Meg back onstage. Really, truly, this never happens, it should never happen, yet witnesses to history and this tape prove, “Let’s Build a Home” just smokes before the tape runs out in a brief moment of Basinski-esque disintegration.
I’m a bastard when it comes to hyperbole…I HATE when people blow shit out of proportion. I don’t have time for it. But I honestly do not think the White Stripes ever played a more perfect show. Yeah Manaus ’05 was bonkers, Tasmania ’06 is electrifying, Mississippi ’07 brings tears, Detroit Institute of Arts, Peel sessions…there’s no shortage of GREAT shows with this band. But ones where everything clicks. Where the band is almost a visage in hyper-speed while their surroundings are but props calcified in amber, where it feels like the incalculable number of nerve endings of every last synapse of every living being in the world were all connected onstage that night…well, damn, Oberlin it is. Because while those other shows may carry more emotion, may explore further depths of the catalog, or engaged multiples of more fans…September 16th, 2000 was the catalyst that enabled all of them to ever happen.
“Heard Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Nirvana consecutively on the radio as we entered Seattle city limits. When we got to the club the sound guy was wearing the ‘Fudge Packin’ Nirvana tee I knew I’d see here. Took me awhile to find the Space Needle, but once I did, I knew I was officially in Seattle. While band was sound checking, I explored the city and managed to walk to Sub Pop World HQ and the Croc Club.
The Stripes were okay, Slim Moon was really into it, sold a ton of merch, saw some guy with a bootleg Gories ‘Outta Here’ t-shirt. After the show, Jack got offered to record for Kill Rock Stars and Sub Pop (from Jon Ponemon himself). Leaving the club the van wouldn’t start (for about ten seconds) giving everyone a big scare.”
In terms of The White Stripes first extended tour, Seattle seemed like a gig everyone was looking forward to. Having just turned 18 years old four days prior, I was later told that if I could get into the show in Seattle (with some of the most restrictive 21-and-over bar policies in the country) that I would be able to get in ANYWHERE. No one ever even asked to look at my ID, but the next four times I would find myself at the Crocodile Club I would have to stay in the van because I wasn’t 21 yet. Anyway, the set that night was prime White Stripes 2000 magic, all the best moments from their first two albums delivered with abandon and aplomb. The crowd doesn’t even seem to mind the early abandonment of “Little Bird”, cheering their heads off at its conclusion, nor object when Jack re-inserts the tune into the set not two songs later. While Jack’s voice had been having issues this week (he even begins the show pre-apologizing for it) outside of his changing his register for “Jolene” it sounds vibrant to me. The vitality of youth! I shot video of this gig, but it’s a terrible angle with horrible light. Maybe we’ll share it for the 30th anniversary.
We’re back for the first Third Man Thursday of the year and this month’s release is a unique treat. Today, Third Man Records is releasing The White Stripes’ 2001 show at Orange House in Munich, Germany. The show is one of only two known White Stripes shows to be recorded on reel-to-reel tape. Third Man Records’ Co-Founder Ben Blackwell’s write up details the unique process of mastering this show from the 1/4″ tapes:
This show is a remarkable performance in stellar quality. Boy do the Germans know how to record! Of particular interest was the fact that a radio broadcast in 2001 was recorded to 1/4” tape. Just seems like…such an anachronistic move. The fact that the tapes ended up in the Third Man Vault made it all the better to transfer at an appropriately-high bitrate and then share them here. But the tapes themselves were in an incredibly odd iteration which I had never even seen before. They weren’t on reels (or flanges) and instead the tape was all held together by sheer tension around a metal center piece that looks reminiscent of a 45rpm adaptor. I am told they are called AEG hubs. Additionally, the tape was wound with the reels magnetic side OUT. Leave it to our main man Bill Skibbe to track down a German Telefunken tape machine IN DETROIT and work magic on his end. The heads on Telefunken machines face IN, so he had to surgically unspool, respool, edit out dead space AND track down a step up converter as the machine only runs on 220v electricity. I wish everyone had their very own Bill Skibbe to solve technological quandaries like this. I mean, he IS for hire at Third Man Mastering, but I digress.
There are some songs missing here that are included in audio circulating amongst fans, in this instance clearly missed by engineers swapping out reels in real time. Rather than try to include from inferior sourced audio, we’ve chosen to just present the show exactly as it exists on these original tapes. Save for one EARLY gig (1997?) I am unaware of any other White Stripes performances that were captured on reel-to-reel tape, so this feels extra-special. Starting the set with “Death Letter” is peculiar and I love it…I can’t recall any other Stripes performance beginning with that song, but I’m sure some die-hard will take the opportunity to tell me otherwise! Coupled with rousing takes on “Love Sick” and “The Union Forever” the entire performance captivates. A prime example of the on-fire abandon Jack and Meg were brimming with in 2001.