[A guest post by contributor Gilles LeBlanc on the 10th anniversary of the breakup of the White Stripes. He still hasn’t recovered from that traumatic event. – AC]
How can anyone ever hope to quantify something as subjective as an artist or band being deemed the best live act in the world?
Is it purely based on the energy brought to a stage, or the power to generate excitement throughout a crowd? How about pure presence versus elaborate or unnecessarily gaudy set designs? Don’t forget the songs themselves, they had better be good too.
Everything is so arbitrary when art is involved; besides, if you ever got the chance to see The White Stripes during their time together from 1997 – 2007, you know this is a moot point anyhow. Not even an awkwardly acoustic performance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2009 that ended up being their swan song could tarnish the legacy of Southwest Detroit’s finest.
Simply speaking, Jack and Meg White created magic together that no duo or group of any other size for that matter has been able to replicate.
This February 2nd sadly will mark a full decade since The White Stripes officially called it quits. The music that remains – six albums worth – is as fresh and forceful on the senses as when it was first unleashed. The Greatest Hits package released in December 2020 does its best to capture the range of material Jack and Meg would typically plow through in concert. It’s even subtitled My Sister Thanks You and I Thank You, a refrain Jack often said to put an exclamation point on a successful show.
From their get-go, The White Stripes expanded the notion of what two people making noise could sound like. “Let’s Shake Hands”, “Screwdriver”, “Hello Operator” and “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” were a prominent part of the guitar-led, back to basics movement of the early-2000s that also restored Detroit’s “Rock City” reputation. They channeled Mississippi Delta spirits like Son House for a version of “Death Letter”, only to raise the authentic blues sakes even higher on “Ball and Biscuit”.
The White Stripes didn’t just cover random songwriters such as Burt Bacharach and Hal David (“I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”). In the case of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, Jack literally becomes the female protagonist begging the titular character “please don’t take my man”. They brought antiquated recording equipment roaring back to life, scoring a number one alternative anthem in the process with “Seven Nation Army”. Experiments were carried out on instruments ranging from playful piano (“My Doorbell”) to a marimba of all things (“The Nurse”). All with indie vigueur of the DIY variety.
I can’t think of another rock outfit who could shift so seamlessly between rawish punk to down-home country and even a little folk in the course of the same set without ever referring to a setlist, trusting their shared instincts instead.
As a fan, I hope that Jack and Meg’s health is well and good (especially as the coronavirus rages on), that they’re happy with their lives as well as proud of how they’ve touched so many people in so many places. When is Nunavut going to get a concert like theirs ever again? Shout out #UnderGreatWhiteNorthernLights!
I also hope their relationship is such that there always remains the possibility of a reunion…even if for no other reason than to reclaim the “best live act” honour!