By Ben Blackwell
I would love to regale you with the exact feeling of the room when the White Stripes rocked the Crocodile Club in July 2001. But I can’t…because I wasn’t allowed into the show. Nevermind that I was travelling with the band and in charge of selling all their merchandise, Seattle’s draconian liquor laws prevented me from even being in the room that night because I was only 19 years old at the time. I’d prepared for the moment, slightly, by bringing my older brother’s ID with me just in case I ran into trouble, but the door guy saw through it and was “kind” (his words) to me by NOT cutting it up.
One of the guys working at the club saw this go down and realizing I had nowhere to go asked if I wanted to go for a ride and just kill time. He had to go back to his crib before the gig, I would’ve literally just been sitting in the van (which I was already getting a good dose of at 5-6 hours a day) so I tagged along.
(Years later by sheer coincidence I would be reintroduced to said guy, Frank Nieto, as he was the publicist for my band the Dirtbombs’ We Have You Surrounded album in 2008. It would be quite some time of working together before we actually figured out that we’d met years earlier)
Instead I went down the street to the Sit ‘n’ Spin, the club a few blocks away where the Stripes had played 13 months earlier AND which had no problem letting me in underage. Truthfully…I’m pretty sure I fell asleep there over a slice of pizza. I got woken up by one of the employees as they were preparing to close for the evening and the guy claimed he remembered me coming in the previous year with the White Stripes.
I walked back to the Croc and from outside was able to hear the faintest twinklings of the Stripes’ first time ever cover of Arthur Lee’s “Five String Serenade” which is probably the best part of the ripper of a gig. Yeah that extended set-opening “Let’s Shake Hands” is a top five performance no doubt, and the undeniably explosive version of “Screwdriver” is likely the hardest dive into white noise Jack and Meg ever took…only to lock into a riffy guitar groove reminiscent of Jack’s part on “Turn Your Little Light Bulb On” by the Go.
But the austere “Five String Serenade”, tackled here without any previously known rehearsals or forays, is just perfect. The Stripes were introduced to the song via Mazzy Star’s version on their 1993 album So That Tonight I Might See. Jack and Meg’s simple, plaintive rendition here is probably my favorite musical moment of the entirety of the 2001 touring. The song just speaks so much while saying so little.
Would’ve been nice if I’d actually SEEN any of it happen, but hell, at least we were able to get it recorded. That’s all that matters in the end.