Saturday, May 19, 2007
The White Stripes Take On The Big Bad Modern World With A Surprise Show, Forty Year Old Amps and Five Dollar T-Shirts
Wednesday I got an exciting email from the White Stripes website that they were going to be performing an intimate surprise gig at Nashville's tiny Cannery Club on Friday. It would be the first gig of their ten year anniversary tour and the first show they have played together since December of 2005.
I made sure to be on the Internet at noon on Thursday to get one of the 250 fan tickets that were to be sold. They sold out in less than three minutes but I did manage to secure one. So after a long day at work yesterday I excitedly made the one drive down to Nashville to see one of the last great rock bands on the planet.
Even though I got to the club 90 minutes before the doors were scheduled to open there was already a line of eager fans in place. I ended up behind a couple of girls who had made a near ten hour drive from Detroit and they were boiling over with excitement and exhaustion. Throughout the night I spoke to several people who had driven ten to fifteen hours and it was nice to be reminded of a fan's dedication to their favorite band.
Some people didn't have tickets and were walking around with signs in hand attempting to get them. Most were kids in the early twenties who had driven a long way in the hopes of seeing a special show while others were your typical scalper types looking to score a week's worth of meals at the expense of some poor fan.
The whole night reeked of fan appreciation as the doors were opened up thirty minutes early for us to find a sign that said special gig specific t-shirts for only five dollars! When was the last time you saw a concert t-shirt at a gig under thirty dollars? Oh, and the tickets for the show were only 25 so for around thirty bucks and some gas money I got to see one of the best bands on the planet in the most intimate possible venue.
After purchasing my shirt I managed to make my way to the stage so I ended up being maybe seven or eight feet from the band the whole night. The crowd was incredibly diverse with ages ranging from 18 to 60+ and all were surprisingly well behaved. It was nice to be a club show and not being constantly shoved or kicked in the head by some idiot crowd surfer. Behind the stage were were a group of White Stripes friends and family including Jack's wife, the lovely Karen Elson and I think Brendon from The Raconteurs.
Dan Sartain opened the show with a dynamic 40 minute set. I wasn't familiar with Sartain but his infectious blend of rockabilly and pre-punk was incredible sounding and his band really cooked. One of the best opening acts I have seen in a long time.
After Sartain's fine set The White Stripes Roadies came out all delightfully dressed in matching black suits with matching hats, looking like they were on their way to some thirties gangster meeting. I heard a guy behind me mumble that even their roadies are cooler than other bands.
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting the familiar sounds of ACDC's FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK: WE SALUTE YOU started and everyone knew the moment was close. The stage set up was fairly simple, unlike their more elaborate GET BEHIND ME SATAN tour although this might have been due to The Cannery's size.
Jack and Meg walked on stage to a deafening roar and both looked fantastic. Meg was stunning looking wearing a white polka dot top and is obviously very shy as she quickly climbed behind her drum set. Jack White is one of the great rock stars and he radiates charisma and confidence, dressed in a simple black shirt and red pants, the very fit White had every girl around me screaming and shouting through the whole show.
They opened with a searing cover of Hank Williams TENNESSEE BORDER before ripping into their own WHEN I HEAR MY NAME. The Tennessean critic said they were shaky at first but for me they were off and running from the get go. The Cannery had great sound for a club and they were both obviously energised to be playing together again.
Here is the complete set list according to the NME and it looks about right to me:
'Tennessee Border' (Hank Williams)
'When I Hear My Name'
'Cause And Effect'
'Jolene' (Dolly Parton)
'Death Letter/Motherless Children'
'I'm A Martyr For My Love For You'
'Cannon/John The Revelator'
'Ball And Biscuit'
'I'm Slowly Turning Into You'
'We're Going To Be Friends'
'Wasting My Time'
'Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground'
'Rated X' (Loretta Lynn)
'Seven Nation Army'
Many people were expecting them to play their new album close to it's entirety but I think Jack is aware that doing that before a month before it's release in these days of Internet live show downloading would not be wise. The three songs they did play off of it were stunning, from the propulsive title track ICKY THUMP to the country stomp of CAUSE AND EFFECT and the Jimmy Webb like epic I'M A MARTYR FOR MY LOVE FOR YOU. The new album is going to be a killer cataloguing of different styles and influences that promises to be one of the best of the year.
I was disappointed that they ignored their last album GET BEHIND ME SATAN, it is a personal favorite and I have a feeling that it is going end up being one of rock's most overlooked masterpieces.
Highlights included a scorching BALL AND BISCUIT, and the entire encore was astonishing to witness. DEAD LEAVES is a brutal experience live and even after hearing several live recorded versions of it I still get chills. The Lynn cover RATED X is always a highlight and Jack stepped back tonight to let Meg sing more of it. Her shyness and slight hesitation were charming and the crowd loved it. A slightly extended and bombastic take of SEVEN NATION ARMY closed the show and with a bow, wave and thanks they were gone.
Throughout the show Jack and Meg were both in top form. I get so tired of people criticising Meg White's drumming ability. She is one of my favorite drummers since The Velvet Underground's Maureen Tucker, someone she is often compared to. Thrilling to watch and giving Jack's songs the most minimal and solid beat possible, the Cannery floor last night felt like it was going to collapse in with the entire audiences foot stomping to her beats. Another drummer she reminds me of is Ronnie Tutt, in the way she watches Jack intently. The White Stripes are known for not having a set list and she has to have a certain telepathic connection with Jack, much the same way Ronnie Tutt used to stare at Elvis Presley just waiting and anticipating his next move. Watching Meg and Jack White silently communicating with each other throughout a show is a lesson for any young band.
I don't know what to say about Jack White. Playing a variety of guitars and piano (sometimes at the same time) he's one of our great musicians, singers and writers. A virtual catalogue of American music, he's peerless in the increasingly barren landscape of modern rock and roll.
Last night's show was one of the best I have seen in ten years. It had the same kind of sincerity and intensity of just a handful of shows I have witnessed like Elvis Costello and The Attractions on their BRUTAL YOUTH tour or Maria Mckee in the early 90s. In an increasingly unbelieving world these people practice rock as an exorcism and cleansing. The White Stripes still believe in the undeniable importance and healing power that a guitar, drum kit and three minute song can have. I felt really honored that I was able to witness it.
There were several professional photographers there last night and I will post a better photo of it later if I come across a shot. NME and The Tennessean both have reviews up on their web sites if anyone cares to go check those out.
The White Stripes new album ICKY THUMP comes out on June 19th and then they are heading out on tour. If they come anywhere close don't miss them.