Unlikely Rock and Roll: The White Stripes

Frequent GLONO Board contributor Proptronics (aka Nathan Walker) had the opportunity to check out current media darlings, the White Stripes. It’s no secret that Nate is madly in love with drummer Meg White, so here’s what happened when he finally got to see her and her brother in person…

Unlikely Rock and Roll

The White Stripes Live at Michigan State University, April 14, 2002

Two tickets to see the White Stripes at the Michigan State University Ballroom and the expectation of seeing what Mojo Magazine currently claims to be the greatest live show in the world… That’s what I had in mind when I set out for East Lansing, Michigan.

Arriving on campus, I found no one aware or even concerned that one of the hottest bands in the world was about to unleash their particular brand of blues pop noise on them. The building that held the Ballroom held a similar scenario when I walked in. Dozens of students sitting in a commons area that was circled by Taco Bell, McDonald’s and several other fast food restaurants. Was I in the right area?

I asked a group of students for directions to the ballroom and was met with a “aren’t you too old to be here?” smirk. Finally, I got directions and was on my way. At the door, there seemed to be a bit of a buzz but only on the level of seeing your buddy’s band play for the first time in a bar. Where is the excitement?

My first thought upon entering the MSU Ballroom was: high school talent show. A tiny little stage, two small speaker stacks, no smoking signs, and not a drop of alcohol in sight. How can this be rock and roll? How can the White Stripes be playing at this venue? The crowd was an unusual mix of your typical college types, twee indie kids, and a strong showing by men in their mid-forties.

Since I was about an hour late, I asked someone whether the opening band had played yet and was met with a “Hell no, but they better fucking hurry up! I can’t wait any longer.” Ahh, finally someone with that distinct tension building up in their chest as they await the appearance of modern music’s great White hopes.

The opening band was Whirlwind Heat from Grand Rapids. They pulled out some amazing, Braniac-inspired noise pop for the next 35 minutes and whipped the crowd into opposing frenzies. One half of the crowd was hooting and hollering and entirely fascinated with their experimental noise, the other half began heckling and booing these young Grand Rapids exports. One gentleman begged “Come on, give us the real shit!” as they were finishing one song in a drone of feedback. Both sides united as they announced their last song and gave them one hell of a cheer.

At this point, I was skeptical of the White Stripes. The crowd wasn’t very into it, I was standing in the equivalent of your high school’s cafeteria, and I was stone sober. Yet, still the tension was building. One of the kids running the show walked by and informed me that Jack and Meg White would be entering the stage right past me and that I should not hassle them. Was he aware of my secret crush on Meg? Moments later, with my back turned, Meg sauntered past and took her seat at the throne. How can someone so petite make so much noise? Next, coming through like a funeral procession, was Jack being carried flat on his back by five people all dressed in black. Wow.

Jumping on stage, Jack grabbed his guitar and lay on the speaker to get the effective feedback that is the introduction to “Dead Leaves & the Dirty Ground.” The crowd seemed to enjoy the first few tracks, all of which come from their newest album, White Blood Cells. The band was good, the crowd was decent but I was left wondering what Mojo was thinking. Then they hit their stride! “Jolene, Jolene, Joleeeeennnne, please don’t take him just because you can.” You’ve all heard the Dolly Parton version, right? This version shook my soul! The verses were sung with a gentle guitar strum, with the chorus howled through a mic with severe echo effects and Jack’s guitar overdriven to the point of ear-piercing levels. The crowd was left stunned. The moment between their last note and the applause hung like time had stopped until we, at once, realized that this was the real thing.

They went through the next hour rocking out tracks from all three albums, covering Bob Dylan’s “Lovesick” and the traditional blues song “Angel.” Each one seemed to get angrier and more aggressive as the evening went on and the young, party crowd responded. Attempts to crowd surf, stage dive and raise general hell were too much for the slim security, and the guitar tech was left to fend for Jack whilst he played on.

The set finished with the crowd begging for the expected encore; what we got was unexpected. After a ten minute break, they came back to do two more tracks of pure blood and sweat. The beat Meg was playing seemed to be nearly double-time of their studio work and Jack appeared a wild-eyed madman as he tore through “Astro” into “Jack the Ripper.” The crowning glory came as they went into “Let’s Build a Home” that segued into a song that I hadn’t heard before. As they returned to the beat of “Let’s Build a Home,” you could feel a rage building as the pace quickened once more. The last of the chorus trailed away in the echo and Jack ripped into his guitar begging for more feedback. He ripped and tore at it, banged it against his amp, swung it around his head and eventually lost all control and fell to the floor, leaving the guitar in a wash of feedback, thanking the crowd and exiting the stage.

I was left thinking that there has been no hype circling this band — it’s all been an understatement.

33 thoughts on “Unlikely Rock and Roll: The White Stripes”

  1. I saw the White Stripes a little less than a year ago here in Chicago. Great show and a bit before the hype started. I loved the show but was shocked to see them mentioned in a Newsweek article a few weeks later. I knwo people get real uptight when their favorite underground band gets airplay but I love hearing “Fell in Love With a Girl” on “the new alternative,” which plays the smae old shit…mostly.

  2. It appears that I forgot to mention that I thought Whirlwind Heat was wonderful. The singer has more energy than his slight frame can stand and the driving drums and bass were intense. Check them out, if you get the chance.

  3. i happily drove three hours to see my favorite band “the white stripes”@m.s.u.on the 14th.For those under a rock , crawl out and crank one of their albums up,the latest “white blood cells” might rip the hardest,(union forever) simply shreds,but you can’t go wrong no matter where the needle falls on any of their releases. i want to thank jack and meg for being so down to earth and real,taking time to chat and sign some things for me, plus i want to thank Max fromPOP Entertainment who made sure i had a good time during my visit to E. lansing.the white stripes have breathed fresh air into rock and roll’s lungs ,lets enjoyit and be thankful. to fellow candy cane children , goodnight and god bless. thank you, daniel a. middleton 107.3 fm wrsw -warsaw, in

  4. I saw them on the 14th @msu too, and I thought the concert was great. I originally didn’t have a ticket to the sold out show, but losing my dignity and begging for tickets was well worth it. I had all of their albums since about december, and I couldn’t believe them playing at the student union. They fucking owned that place though, and the opening act was quite enjoyable, even if they have a song called “trashbag helmet”.

  5. Okay, I still stand by my previous comments elsewhere on the site that the White Stripes are a very good band, but their live show is nowhere near the best in Detroit. Of course, now that they’re no longer a local band… Two people just don’t make as much noise as three, four, five, etc. If I had the Von Bondies playing across the street from the White Stripes, I’d go see the Von Bondies.

  6. So, how many people would still love their favorite indie band if they became a chart-topping band? I’m questioning whether I would go see them if they were suddenly selling out huge venues and playing to a Top 40 crowd, even if their music remained the same. Would that make me a rock snob if I said I wouldn’t?sab – do the Von Bondies convey as much emotion, though? The sparseness of the two-piece is more than made up for in their raw emotion that’s conveyed in the live show, in my opinion.

  7. we just saw the ‘stripes on their current tour in pittsburgh. the hipster factor was high, a 1,000+ seat venue was nearly filled. i thought the ‘stripes were good…not god, but a good band. jack plays w/conviction & can really deliver a song. i love the way meg compliments his playing. but as i was watching them my mind waundered. i kept thinking of jack as this weird cross between alvin lee & marc bolan. & i wondered if their record company had their way would they get jack to ditch meg & form a blues rock band like srv & double trouble just to get airplay on rock radio & sell product? & our friends who had seen the ‘stripes previously, said afterwards, this show sucked in comparison to previous tours.sam

  8. does anyone know if they’re playing in chicago anytime soon? guess I could check their website, but I’m lazy…

  9. I just checked the liner notes to their Lack of Communication album and I think you can see Sab in the background of one of the photos actually winking at one of the women in the band.

  10. They’re first tour announcement skipped Michigan as well. I was shocked! Then I was fortunately clued in on this non-Ticketmaster show at MSU. They are doing a two-night stand at the Royal Oak Music Theatre just outside of Detroit that’s on sale right now. It’s an excellent chance to get out that grungy little city of Chicago and into the utopia that goes by the nickname ‘Motown’.

  11. Dude, I don’t even know any of the members of the Von Bondies. Remember, I’m now a suburban poseur living in Ann Arbor, 35 miles from the scene.And Prop, in answer to your question: no, the emotion is what carries Jack. Volume and garage freakout is what propels my current favorite Detroit band.

  12. I already found out, 5 hours…you guys are too slow! But what’s the Royal Oak Theater like? Would anyone from Chicago want to make a road trip?

  13. Royal Oak is the ultra-trendy bar and restaurant district in rich white suburbia north of The D. I have a real aversion to this area but you can certainly have a good time there as alcohol, though expensive, is in no short supply. Watch out for the cops though, because they give no quarter.The Royal Oak Music Theater is an okay venue, much bigger than the dive bar scene that the White Stripes grew out of in the heart of the city, 20 miles to the south. To give you an idea of the sort of place, look at the other acts booked there http://www.nipp.com/?srt=Venue). This is the kind of venue that will book anything that will make money, whether DJs or Motorhead. Of interest is that the Royal Oak Music Theatre has a rather checkered history (for a brief summary, see http://www.freep.com/news/locoak/nmusic9_20001109.htm). The place has been closed down, had their liquor license revoked, gotten sued, and been busted more times than I can keep track. True stories of the Royal Oak Music Theatre include their having live sex shows, operating a gambling facility, and the date-rape dance club nights catering to underage girls. Also of note: I have personally been thrown out of the place during an evening when it was operating as a dance club (and I was literally thrown—by a bouncer the size of a Lions offensive tackle). Of course, I did tell an aggressive bitch who was hawking test tube shots to fuck off. Since then the club has been sold to a new owner. I have not been there since my forced departure, which preceded the new ownership.I would suspect a show there is not going to be as good as seeing The Stripes in a bar, but apparently those days are over, at least for now. It’s hard for me to get a read on the crowd on a weeknight. I would expect it to be packed because Jack and Meg have a very big local following, however, the backlash from the hardcore Detroit rock community may temper this a bit. Oakland County (where Royal Oak is located) is not a favorite place for downtowners to hang. Then again, the legions of new White Blood Cells fans may more than make up for it.If you really want to see the White Stripes go ahead and go to this show. Don’t let my rambling dissuade you from going, because the band is very good. They are well worth a 5-hour drive. It’s not like it’s going to totally suck because of the venue. But I’m certainly not going to give Ticketmaster $25.80 of my money, having already seen them perform in both small bars and at the Detroit Institute for the Arts—and for less than $5.

  14. BTW, those links above are messed up because the parentheticals got added to the end of the addresses. For the correct links, click below:

    http://www.freep.com/news/locoak/nmusic9_20001109.htm

    http://www.nipp.com/?srt=VenueAnd for a few more stories of the Royal Oak Music Theatre:

    http://www.freep.com/news/locoak/nmusic6.htm

    http://www.freep.com/news/locoak/nnoir7_20011207.htm

    http://www.freep.com/news/locoak/nroak7_20000407.htm

    http://www.freep.com/news/locoak/ntheater3_20000803.htm

  15. Royal Joak holds 1,700 they say with a balcony,though seats are gen. admission.Basically like the DIA,(where they set a one day record of 3,800 admissions the day the Stripes played there) yet this is acoustically superior and I am sure the sound system will be appropriate. And hell yes it is worth the trip-it was for me when I went to Chicago to see two shows of theirs at the Empty Bottle.

  16. No,but Jack helped me get my eight year old daughter in to see the show-there were plenty that couldn’t. I did not think that the Stripes would top the DIA show-but I think these two will be something special,since they have not played in the immediate area since Nov.

  17. to garage66 comment above about the suckage of the PA fans: dude, in my opinion it’s not the fans fault when a band can’t deliver the goods. sam

  18. I was merely reiterating the sentiment that more than just a handful of performers have stated about playing around the country,and sadly it doesn’t seem that they ever rate all that much. You’re right,a band that can’t deliver should get what they deserve.Maybe the expectations ran higher on both sides of the fence,with a lot of great energy being dumped into a pool of mediocrity between them.Sounds more like the majority of the posing fans insisted on living up to a useless reputation and succeeded,by the countless accounts I have heard.It’s too bad the “two bad” shows had to happen there.

  19. i saw wirlwind heat and the white stripes at this years coachella valley arts muuc festival and they were awsome.the red hot chili pepers were there too.

  20. Yeah what’s up with that.

    I saw them at The Coachella festival.

    I have two words for those two chicks

    in that band:

    BREAST IMPLANTS

    Flat chicks do not rock.

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