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
By Nathan Walker
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.