With his trusty all-male backing band the Buzzards, Jack White’s July 2012 solo debut in Paris is chock full of reimagined White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather favorites sprinkled amongst gems from the just-released Blunderbuss. Throw in choice covers of songs originally by Hank Williams and Dick Dale and a guest appearance by show openers First Aid Kit on “We’re Going To Be Friends” and the end result is a 23-song performance that runs the gamut from blistering to brash to breaking hearts.
Setlist Black Math Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground Missing Pieces Weep Themselves To Sleep Love Interruption Tennessee Border Hotel Yorba Two Against One I Cut Like A Buffalo Trash Tongue Talker Blunderbuss Hypocritical Kiss The Same Boy You’ve Always Known Top Yourself
Encore Nitro Sixteen Saltines Cannon Blue Blood Blues I Guess I Should Go To Sleep We’re Going To Be Friends Carolina Drama Catch Hell Blues Seven Nation Army
I would love to regale you with the exact feeling of the room when the White Stripes rocked the Crocodile Club in July 2001. But I can’t…because I wasn’t allowed into the show. Nevermind that I was travelling with the band and in charge of selling all their merchandise, Seattle’s draconian liquor laws prevented me from even being in the room that night because I was only 19 years old at the time. I’d prepared for the moment, slightly, by bringing my older brother’s ID with me just in case I ran into trouble, but the door guy saw through it and was “kind” (his words) to me by NOT cutting it up.
One of the guys working at the club saw this go down and realizing I had nowhere to go asked if I wanted to go for a ride and just kill time. He had to go back to his crib before the gig, I would’ve literally just been sitting in the van (which I was already getting a good dose of at 5-6 hours a day) so I tagged along.
(Years later by sheer coincidence I would be reintroduced to said guy, Frank Nieto, as he was the publicist for my band the Dirtbombs’ We Have You Surrounded album in 2008. It would be quite some time of working together before we actually figured out that we’d met years earlier)
Instead I went down the street to the Sit ‘n’ Spin, the club a few blocks away where the Stripes had played 13 months earlier AND which had no problem letting me in underage. Truthfully…I’m pretty sure I fell asleep there over a slice of pizza. I got woken up by one of the employees as they were preparing to close for the evening and the guy claimed he remembered me coming in the previous year with the White Stripes.
I walked back to the Croc and from outside was able to hear the faintest twinklings of the Stripes’ first time ever cover of Arthur Lee’s “Five String Serenade” which is probably the best part of the ripper of a gig. Yeah that extended set-opening “Let’s Shake Hands” is a top five performance no doubt, and the undeniably explosive version of “Screwdriver” is likely the hardest dive into white noise Jack and Meg ever took…only to lock into a riffy guitar groove reminiscent of Jack’s part on “Turn Your Little Light Bulb On” by the Go.
But the austere “Five String Serenade”, tackled here without any previously known rehearsals or forays, is just perfect. The Stripes were introduced to the song via Mazzy Star’s version on their 1993 album So That Tonight I Might See. Jack and Meg’s simple, plaintive rendition here is probably my favorite musical moment of the entirety of the 2001 touring. The song just speaks so much while saying so little.
Would’ve been nice if I’d actually SEEN any of it happen, but hell, at least we were able to get it recorded. That’s all that matters in the end.
Not every show is life-affirmingly beautiful. Not every show earns a rosy summation with a tidy bow wrapped around it. Not every show is a game-changer. A lot of gigs are rough, a lot of gigs involve a struggle. A lot of gigs teach us about an artist in regards to how they react to adversity.
The White Stripes at the Troubadour on July 16th, 2001 is one of those shows where the disconnect is the likely appeal.
Around summer of 2001, a phenomenon started to become apparent in regards to the White Stripes playing two shows in a row in the same town. Two-night stands, as it were. For a reason that still seems difficult to pinpoint…the crowd at the first night of a two-show run would just be…dull. Still. Disengaged.
That was the perceived state of the crowd in Los Angeles that day. Before the Stripes even hit the stage, the attendees had not gelled with either of the two opening acts. That alone raised Jack’s ire and you can hear it from the moment he steps onstage…barely any noise from the crowd and an immediate on-mic condemnation.
From there, the always incendiary “Let’s Shake Hands” is outwardly even MORE so. Through “When I Hear My Name” and “Dead Leaves” the propulsion is strictly emanating from the attempt to inspire the crowd.
The accentented intro to “Jolene” is a nice deviation and in spite of the applause, there was still a disconnect. In what I’ve titled “Hip Improv” here, Jack and Meg chug along on a straightforward “Boll Weevil”-reminiscent groove before Jack intones “Is this hip enough for you Meg? Ah! Can you feel the hipness blow upon you Meg? Come on now! Oh so cool, so cool. Oh so cool.”
Jack’s guitar fritzing out a handful of times here doesn’t help. The aborted 13 seconds of “Astro” at the end of “Cannon” to me signify the band grasping at straws to try and breakthrough to the audience.
The hot and cold version of “Death Letter” is further evidence of throwing it all against the wall in hopes that something sticks. Following the solid version of “I Think I Smell A Rat” Jack quizzically asks “So how’s the movie? Everybody enjoying the movie?”
The blazing, 62-second version of “Fell In Love With A Girl” feels downright spiteful, especially in foregoing the final verse and chorus of the song. “Wasting My Time” seems like the title could be a manifestation of the feelings on stage at that point. “Southern Can” is tackled at an outright breakneck pace, possibly the fastest it had ever been played.
The protracted accents punctuating the middle of “Screwdriver” feel provocative, yet another attempt to draw something out of those assembled in the room that evening. Toward the end of the song, Jack and Meg are just busting their humps to improvise on the same page. They get there, eventually.
The intriguing part here is, in spite of all the friction, the show is a compelling listen. Thinking back today, I had NO memory of the audience that night. No remembrance of the struggle. No recall of a less-than-ideal performance. I had no significant recollection of the show other than the fact that I met Chris Pontius at the merch table while Eric Erlandson and Mike Mills were floating around the room as well.
Listening back 20 years later, my takeaway here is that whatever the vibe in the room may be at the time, in two decades’ time hardly anyone will even remember. If you remove Jack’s banter here, it kinda just sounds like any other show from the same run. Ultimately, I don’t even know if the feeling in the room even matters once the evening is over. All we will have is the recording, if we’re lucky. Everything else is just perception, and perception is just a nine-dollar word for opinion.
The White Stripes performance at the Bottle Rocket in 2001 (their fourth and final performance in Glass City) highlights the first recorded performance of “I Think I Smell A Rat.” The Sisyphean task of appropriately tagging “first-ever performance” of a band’s songs is a lake of fire that I cautiously dip my toes into. As shows earlier that month in Athens, OH and Louisvile possibly featured the song, the fact that no one appears to have captured proof of either leaves the truth lost to the mists of history. But April 20th in Toledo is likely the slowest tempo “I Think I Smell A Rat” was ever performed by Jack and Meg. Whereas the speed would be kicked up noticeably in future performances, the measured approach here feels almost…confrontational. The take on “Dead Leaves” is similarly restrained. A rare exploration of “Death Letter” as a set opener wildly leans into an aggressively delightful distorted ending to “Little Bird” while a charmed misremembering of the lyrics in “Your Southern Can Is Mine” reels with childish warmth.
A crowd small (and audible) enough to hear their specific song requests (the obscure vinyl-only “Handsprings!” or “Hotel Yorba” which hadn’t even been released yet) would not remain that way much longer. The tongue-in-cheek “deepest sympathies” to dear friends (and local blues-punk heroes) Henry and June is followed a few songs later with a more sincere thank you shout-out to the group. The ad-libbed “that’s me!” dropped in after “Jackson” in “Astro”, vocal gibberish resembling the phrase “Third Man” in “Screwdriver” …all these are sweet little chesnuts in this wonderful setlist from the briefest of transitional periods…mixing in, with guile, songs from the impending “White Blood Cells” with choice cuts from the band’s previous efforts.
All that said, over twenty years later and Jack White has not played Toledo under any guise since.
Hometown shows are, oftentimes, a mess. The guest list is a clusterfuck, some weirdo from high school you haven’t seen in a decade monopolizes your time, dinner springs upon you like an unwieldy beast that you’ve never had to tackle previously (despite making it work every day in your “regular” life in town). The benefit though is that the performances are so much more likely to be sublime. And the White Stripes at the Magic Stick (coupled with the Gold Dollar as close as they would ever have to a “home field”) on March 31st, 2001 is absolutely sublime.
As the culmination of three Midwestern dates that weekend (Cleveland and Chicago were the Thursday/Friday shows) the run was hot on the heels of the Stripes breakout performances at South-By Southwest earlier that month. The momentum was building. The shows were only increasing in intensity.
While at this point twenty years later, the setlist is fairly in line with other Stripes’ gigs from that moment, the awkwardness of “Boll Weevil” dropping in the middle of the set will never cease to feel like a glitch in the fabric of time. So clearly is that song supposed to be a set closer. In that same mindset, “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” NOT kicking off a show, but tucked in the later third of the set, just smacks of a work-in-progress. The White Stripes were always game to adjust and call audibles and pull things on the fly…but once a move was so clearly perfected, well, there’s a hard time breaking out of that comfort.
A particular treat in this performance is the first and only appearance of the red-and-white Danelectro double-neck guitar. The stock clear pickguards were hand-painted red by Jack himself. With the auxiliary neck strung up in the baritone register, the axe is deployed for the “Astro/Jack the Ripper” medley followed by “The Big Three Killed My Baby”…and then never again. To hear Jack’s thoughts on it at the time, he didn’t feel like he should be doing anything that would explicitly court MORE comparisons to Led Zeppelin.
(For those keeping tabs, that guitar would show up on stage six years later ably utilized by the local Detroit garage band Tin Knocker)
I seem to recall selling copies of the Stripes Sub Pop single at the merch table on this night. Or if we didn’t…we certainly discussed the possibility of doing so. Maybe we only sold a few? For everything I remember in the past 20 years, there’s a thousand I’ve forgotten so the fact there’s a solid VHS video of the gig on YouTube is a nice accompaniment here. Enjoy.
It’d be delusional for anyone to argue that the White Stripes gig at the Troubadour in Los Angeles on July 17th of 2001 was the primary focus for the band that day. Of far more intrigue and excitement was their mid-afternoon recording of a live performance at CBS Studios for the evening broadcast of The Late Show With Craig Kilborn.
So once THAT had commenced and the Troubadour confirmed that they could pull up CBS on the television behind the bar…the rest of the day is just a bonus.
Listening back twenty years later, I have to say that the show feels unmoored without a slide blues interlude of “Death Letter” anchoring it all. I know the band didn’t play “Death Letter” at EVERY show, but damn, at this point in the career, it seems like it was all but a given.
So what a delight it is for off-the-cuff covers like Tommy Johnson’s “Cool Drink of Water Blues” and Gene Vincent’s “Baby Blue” and “Farmer John” by Don and Dewey all to sit comfortably among the standards of the era like “Dead Leaves” and “Little Room” and “The Union Forever.” The accent-based “St. James Infirmary” is always a treat and anytime any song comes after “Boll Weevil” I consider that extra special.
The celebratory feeling of seeing Jack and Meg bash out “Screwdriver” and “Your Southern Can Is Mine” on Kilborn on the modest screen behind the storied downstairs bar was probably the last moment where I most truly thought “there’s no getting bigger than this” for the White Stripes. And the fact that we’re here, now, twenty years later still talking about and sharing these recollections is all the proof I need that the White Stripes are amazingly still relevant and, in many ways, still getting bigger.
The West Coast run in July of 2001 was arguably the most exhilarating span of tour dates I ever had the pleasure of accompanying the White Stripes on. All the shows were sold out, each night some exciting name would show up at the gig unexpectedly, the band was shit hot on fire and all the building hype and furor was unlike anything we’d ever experienced before and arguably would never experience again.
So the White Stripes fourth San Francisco gig in just over four months was all of those things and more. From my recollection, the previous night’s performance at Bimbo’s was just a hair-off…the supper club-style setting not completely conducive to the vibe the Stripes were putting out on that evening.
It also appeared to be an early example (the earliest?) of a weird phenomenon that befell the Stripes for the rest of their career. When doing a two-night stand in a city… the first crowd is usually…not as enthusiastic as it could be. The second night was almost always more than compensatory for this, but it was something that was consistently observed and talked about and at least attempted to “solve” for years.
This is clearly evidenced by the gig kicking off with “Little Room”, a unique placement in the set for this song which usually operated as an interstitial interlude. “Little Room” is a reaction to the subdued crowd reaction the previous evening AND a great way to kick up the energy for the start of the show.
Of particular interest to me in this set is a nice sixty-second stretch of guitar and cymbal crash hits that is wholly set apart from the songs it is sandwiched between. Similarly, structured hits would oftentimes telegraph the beginning of “Death Letter” but on this date, it exists just as a unique standalone statement. Here it’s been titled “Improvisational Accents” and it’s a nice capture of a little moment that would otherwise be forgotten to the ages.
Additionally, the interpolation of the traditional song “John The Revelator” into “Canon” found Jack lying prostrate, screaming the words through one of the pick-ups of his guitar. Listening here, the unhinged energy of the recording ably conveys the raw, intense vibe in the room on that evening, twenty years ago today.
A left-turn segue into Carl Perkins’ classic “Matchbox” is a rare cover of the 1957 Sun Records gem, which as far as I have an accounting of, is the only time the band ever slipped this nugget into a performance.
Both “You’re Pretty Good Looking” and “Fell In Love With A Girl” are incomplete here and I have to surmise that somewhere between each track’s respective end and beginning there was an encore break. The specifics though seem to be lost to time and I look back thinking about the simple, easy notes I could’ve taken at the moment to more completely illustrate stories like this. But oh well.
It all wraps up conveniently, almost recalling “Improvisational Accents”, with explosive, expressive blasts of guitar and drums at the conclusion of “Jack The Ripper.” For a run of shows that were all captivating in their own way, this Great American Music Hall show definitely still holds its own twenty years later.
June of 2001 would find the White Stripes playing three NYC gigs in as many nights and the sense of impending greatness felt all but predetermined. The appearance of the likes of Kate Hudson, Chris Robinson, Jon Spencer, Vincent Gallo and PJ Harvey in the crowds at these gigs seemingly confirmed that.
All celeb-spotting aside…Jack and Meg were expressly feeling weighed down by the extent of their press and promotion duties. There’s a photo taken during this time in NYC where Jack is wearing an otherwise plain white t-shirt that says “New York Confuses Me.” Written (at his request) by Meg, the outwardly transparent reckoning of his mounting frustration with publicity scheduling seems almost quaint in hindsight.
The recording here from the June 17th second night at the Bowery Ballroom is a straight knockout…nary an errant move to distract from the supernova captured on tape, all inside a room that was clearly packed beyond its legal limit of 575 patrons. Twenty years to the day since its recording feels like as perfect a time as ever to share this corker with the world.
The opening five songs are unrelenting in energy and bombast…as solid a barrage of introductory rock and roll the duo would ever seem to muster. A curveball of a groove in “The Big Three Killed My Baby” unfurls at the 1:46 point and gives the song an impressive swing to it.
Seven songs into the set and finally the band plays something off of “White Blood Cells.” I find this funny because at that point, I feel like the album was essentially “out there” and released in all but name. “White Blood Cells” was all anyone could talk about! But that delayed unveiling here is indicative of what I consider an extra-sensorily perfect pacing and song selection this evening.
Just barely audible here is Miss Guy (Guy Furrow) from the Toilet Boys jumping on stage unannounced (and uninvited) to proffer intermittent backing vocals on “You’re Pretty Good Looking.” If It wasn’t explicitly called out here…would anyone have noticed or even known about these fleeting couple of seconds during the glory days of George W. Bush’s first term? Almost certainly not. And that is EXACTLY why I mention it.
Later I dig how “St. James Infirmary” crashes into the set with a heavily-accented guitar intro, only to morph into a subdued electric piano variation on the theme.
The entire evening is charmingly ended with “Look Me Over Closely” and while you can’t tell here…another fan crashed the stage to dance to the song and it took all of the band’s collective strength to not make eye contact through the curiously interpretive movements.
Confused or not, the love New York City showed the White Stripes at this point was clearly returned in the form of as solid a performance from 2001 that a fan could ever hope for, not dulled or diminished at all in the intervening two decades.
To jump-start the year-long celebration of the 20th anniversary of the White Stripes third album White Blood Cells it felt appropriate to dust off a solid recording from 2001. Recorded at the legendary club Vera in Groningen, Netherlands, the White Stripes were in full stride during this their 2nd overseas trip of the year. Opening the show with the a-side to their first single “Let’s Shake Hands” and ending two encores later with the b-side to that same single (“Look Me Over Closely”) and you’d be hard pressed to find a more representative gig from this run of shows. Seemingly shared amongst tape traders since its recording, now is as good a time as ever to make this high-quality recording officially available to the public.
Described by the local press as “deliciously irresponsible” and the first rock concert ever at the grand Teatro Amazonas Opera House, the performance of June 1st, 2005 was simply incomparable. Featuring a devastating cover of Bob Dylan’s “Love Sick”, two versions (one electric, one acoustic) of “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known,” three versions of “Passive Manipulation” (two sublime, one outstanding), a snippet of Howlin Wolf’s “I Asked For Water,” and ample marimba on “The Nurse,” and what you have is one of the most iconic and memorable shows the White Stripes ever played.
Words do not ably describe the beauty of the Teatro Amazonas nor the furor riled up by the White Stripes appearance there. Not only was there fear that the amplification of the band would cause the plaster in the building to crack and possibly fall and injure attendees, but out of custom/fear/lord-knows-what the crowd remained seated until being explicitly asked to stand from the stage by Jack White himself. If that wasn’t enough, during the show Jack and Meg ventured outside the venue to play an entirely unamplified version of “We Are Going to Be Friends” for the assembled multitude of fans unable to purchase tickets and watching the performance via closed-circuit feed. The resultant melee was arguably a riot and was lovingly and all together what it makes is one of the best true rock and roll moments of recent memory. Heck, Jack White even got married that day.
The best White Stripes show? Some folks might say that. Listen for yourself and you be the judge.
Twenty years and nine days after it happened, I could not think of a better way to wrap up our monthslong delve into the White Stripes live performances from the year 2000 than with this previously-forgotten recording from Spaceland in Los Angeles on December 8th.
The Stripes first played Spaceland a mere six months prior on June 22nd, having placed an early “hold” on the date at the club enabled them to negotiate a spot opening for Weezer (underplaying using the pseudonym Goat Punishment) in a gig I’m still kicking myself for not even attempting to record or film.
This, their second-ever trip to the West Coast, would be a quick jaunt right as excitement on the band was hitting a fever pitch. Reviews of this show at the time highlight a line around the block to get in Spaceland on this night.
And the show is strong…an inviting mix-up of songs the band had mastered and was flying in and out of sets by that point. Largely devoid of between-song banter (save for Jack apologizing that his guitar broke the previous evening and that he cannot seem to make it be “friends”) and not garnering an encore, I can only posit that the band felt this show was just okay.
Stripes tour manager John Baker recalls that following the performance, the soundman wanted to charge him $200 for a CD of the show. After a bit of wrangling, John was able to obtain it gratis and this gig, recorded directly to CD, is now remastered directly from that original compact disc master.
RIP to Spaceland, later known as the Satellite, which closed down this year and never opened back up. Completely unrelated to the White Stripes, but I have fond memories of running into Lux Interior and Poison Ivy outside there and, man, just saying that feels like it’s something I’ll be telling my grandkids like my mom tells me about seeing Pete Maravich play basketball or Elvis at Olympia or the Rationals at the Michigan State Fair
There’s still some other 2000 material stuff kicking around, some of it only just recently unearthed like this Spaceland gig, but for the time being, we’ll consider the door closed on this year and will excitedly move on to other explorations. For a review of this show at the time of performance, check out the write-up here…
The White Stripes’ first-ever performance in Madison was a windy Thursday night in a college town where it appeared most of the students had already left for spring break. The gig at O’Cayz was the band’s first after the completion of their sophomore album, the “De Stijl” cover photos taken a mere two days earlier. While still three months before its release, March 16th is, essentially, the first show of the “De Stijl” tour cycle. The band does four songs off the album (some with the intro of “from our new album that’s coming out”), all of which they’d been playing live for months already.
While included in a still-unshared amateur video of the 3/3/00 Magic Stick gig, the version of “Death Letter” included here is the earliest available recorded live performance of what would become one of the band’s mainstay songs, performed at almost every show for the rest of their career. A little more simple than the behemoth it would later evolve into, I’m quite fond of the inauspicious take on Son House’s classic here. Like just about everything with the White Stripes…simple beginnings.
From my perch, the show was solid if not wildly divergent or raucous. The band went on second of three bands…before the headlining Mistreaters yet after Rob McCuen and the Ruins. I always felt the snare on this board mix was just too low for my liking but was eternally grateful that Kevin Meyer (of the Mistreaters) had the foresight to record the show. Bright moments like the seldom-performed “Grinnin’ In Your Face” or “Astro” interluding with a nod to “Peter Gunn” but without the “I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield” lyrics or Jack saying he invited the mayor of Madison to the show that evening…all stick out to me as welcome, unique turns in the evening.
Most of all, I’m still scratching my head at Jack introducing “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” as having been written by Buster Keaton…a spurious claim I still have no insight as to where in the hell it came from but had blindly repeated for years before realizing that Burt Bachrach and Hal David were the true authors.
Personally, I had a bitch of a ureteral stent removed earlier in the day and found out I’d gotten a full scholarship to college prior to shoving off for Madison….so all around, it was a pretty memorable day.
August 18th, 2000 had The White Stripes performing at Detroit’s venerable Magic Stick. Supported by near-and-dear friends (who’d later become bandmates and collaborators), the Greenhornes and Whirlwind Heat, the recording provides a window into the Stripes’ mindset that Summer — just after their West Coast De Stijl headlining tour in June and still yet to experience the insanity of their opening slots for Sleater-Kinney in September. The only known live performance of Captain Beefheart’s “Ashtray Heart” (which they’d just recently laid to tape for eventual release in the Sub Pop Singles Club), a rare live outing for the deep cut “I’m Bound to Pack It Up,” and an electrifying set-ending “Let’s Shake Hands” leave the listener with the palpable sense that something amazing is about to happen for this band.
Until someone provides a recording of the 7/22/00 Beachland Ballroom show (or possibly the 7/15/00 Blind Pig show) this is the earliest White Stripes live recording with Jack White using his soon-to-be indispensable Big Muff pedal. The performance of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” featured here is the earliest extant example of the distorted, feedback-soaked style that would become the standard for this song. The implementation of the green Big Muff Pi pedal here on songs like “Apple Blossom”, “Cannon”, “When I Hear My Name” and others presents dynamic variations on these classics that previously was non-existent, marking a watershed moment in band history that has not been previously heralded.
Whirlwind Heat played INSANELY early this evening. As in, they were already onstage by the time the Stripes arrived at the venue. The room was pretty empty at that point. So much so that Jack felt bad and arranged for the band to go on again…AFTER he and Meg had finished. You can hear him say after the completion of “Do”…speaking on-mic to Heat frontman David Swanson, “Hey Swanson, you wanna come up? Whirlwind Heat will entertain you again.” The band assembled on-stage quickly and played a brief but spirited second set. Classy all around.
The poster for this performance was personally designed by Jack White (as all early Stripes art was) and may or may not have appropriated imagery from a long-forgotten G.I. Joe graphic.
While previously released in 2017 as part of Third Man Records’ Vault subscription series, the version featured here is newly transferred, speed-corrected, and mastered in high resolution. Upgrade!
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.