Damn, I Miss the White Stripes

[Contributor Gilles LeBlanc remains a hardcore White Stripes fan. They’ve been gone for a while and aren’t coming back…and that hurts. – 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.

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.

While they officially called it quits in 2011, after an awkwardly acoustic farewell performance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien two years before, July 30th will actually mark a full decade since the last White Stripes show. The music that remains – six albums worth – is as fresh and forceful on the senses as when it was first unleashed. This playlist does its best to capture the feeling of experiencing Jack and Meg in concert, although Icky Thump has inexplicably been removed from Spotify (hopefully only temporarily).

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, 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!

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Damn, I Miss the White Stripes

  • June 27, 2017 at 11:36 pm
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    It’s articles/blog posts like this that let me know I’m not crazy. I’ve listened to the White Stripes every day since they broke up in 2011. I literally felt sick when I found out they broke up and realized that I’d never get the opportunity to see them live.

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