The White Stripes at Civic Hall in Wolverhampton, UK 4/7/2003

LISTEN NOW: The White Stripes at Civic Hall in Wolverhampton, UK 4/7/2003

Exclusive to, this month’s Third Man Thursday release brings us The White Stripes April 7, 2003 performance from Wolverhampton. From archivist Ben Blackwell:

Twenty years ago, give or take a couple of weeks, the White Stripes purchased a Random Access Digital Audio Recorder. RADAR for short. It cost $8000. When recently asked about the impetus behind the move, long-time Stripes manager Ian Montone said…

“Many artists I respected – musically and from a business standpoint – always recorded their shows. Frank Zappa specifically. We wanted to implement something similar given we already owned our studio master recordings. So it made sense to record and own everything the band (and Jack) did moving forward. Live shows included. Because every show was different. There was no setlist. Everything was special. We wanted to capture that for posterity’s sake – hence the RADAR.”

In terms of the archival footprint of the White Stripes, the importance of this decision cannot be overstated. Previously, sanctioned live recordings were largely limited to whenever I was there AND the club had a cassette deck wired to the soundboard. With the end result being a static two-channel board recording subject to the whims and preferences of a house sound engineer’s real-time mixing, it left a lot to be desired.

For example…my obligations as a mediocre Detroit college journalism student with a scholarship meant that for the entirety of 2002 (a year the Stripes played nearly 100 shows) I was present for a mere seven performances, two of which were purely coincidental as my band the Dirtbombs were slotted as the warm-up act.

Thus, the number of proprietary live recordings from 2002 in the archive? Shit, barely any. I count one, give or take one.

But come 2003 the White Stripes would have the raw masters of their on-stage inputs digitally preserved. This gave the band the ability, after-the-fact, to have whomever they desired to properly and precisely mix every live show they performed, regardless of whether or not I was there to slide the sound guy a tape that night. This was $8000 well-spent.

Thank god for RADAR.

The April 7th, 2003 gig in Wolverhampton was the first show the White Stripes recorded with this digital system. More importantly, this show is the kick-off to the Elephant world tour, approximately 14 months of whirlwind travel, Whirlwind Heat, sold out shows, not sold out ethics, finger breakings, Grammy takings, global gallivanting and “oh oh oh oh oh ohhhh oh” chanting.

The performance, shockingly, has not been heard in ANY form since the amps powered down that evening two decades ago. I guess no one in Wolverhampton was doing surreptitious audience recordings at the time. Photos of the gig? I found none. Concert poster? I’ve never seen one. Please, prove me wrong. I welcome it. Contemporaneous accounts of the evening? A dumb brief write-up from the NME, one slightly more informative from the Independent and that’s it.

As Jack humbly tells the crowd that Elephant hit number 1 on the charts this day…the gig…you’d think there’d be more proof that it really existed. Things here feel big. They seem important. A chance whiff of greatness. The weight of it all is palpable on the recording.

So the wait to hear this show is most definitely worth it. The first-ever public outing of a clutch of songs off Elephant is the definition of historic.

The fact that Meg switches to her snare hits late on the first verse of “Seven Nation Army”? I LOVE it. Perhaps the only time ever she didn’t 100% nail that song. Jack’s nerves evident on “In The Cold, Cold Night”? Endearing. The premature ending of “The Hardest Button To Button”? A combo of “wow” and “holy shit” said in wonderment.

These are by no means the best versions of ANY of these songs. But they are precious for what they presage…the eventual enshrinement of said tunes in the bombastic canon of a band well on its way to their peak form.

Beyond that…the first time ever covering Public Nuisance’s “Small Faces.” What a moment! And the extra special treat of what we’ve titled here “Talking Pillow By My Side Blues.” An improvised song done in the “talking blues” style pioneered by Chris Bouchillon, appropriated by Woody Guthrie and yet further popularized by Bob Dylan, “Pillow” is one of the more realized extemporaneous songs to emerge from a White Stripes live show of any era. Which is fortunate to have been captured here, as it never shows up again, anywhere, ever.

Thank god for RADAR.

Though I must stress, the method was not perfect. As The White Stripes front of house engineer Matthew Kettle would say “Despite being the best thing we could get at the time, the RADAR was occasionally unreliable, and as we weren’t carrying a sound desk everywhere at that point, not every show was recorded successfully.”

With that in mind, there’s a handful of songs that failed to be recorded in Wolverhampton. “Dead Leaves” and “Black Math” and “I Think I Smell A Rat” seem to be songs from the top of the set lost to the ether on this night. Which isn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things, considering there’s an entire WEEK where Kettle’s best efforts were thwarted by the finicky digital interface and thus, we’re left only with our imagination and collective recollection trying to discern what happened at half dozen shows in June of 2003.

Otherwise the RADAR material was immediately put to use…the accompanying audio to “Black Math” live vid from the Masonic Temple, the Berlin soundcheck b-side recording of “St. Ides of March” and the promo-only triple LP Live In Las Vegas are all proper public-facing mobilizations of these recordings. Third Man didn’t even attempt to crack these suckers open for another ten years until prepping the Nine Miles From The White City live LP included in Vault Package 16 from 2013.

At that point, upon handing mix engineer Vance Powell the necessary drives, he audibly winced.

“What?” I asked him, perplexed and, let’s face it, ignorant.

“These drives have moving parts. Good luck getting anything off of them,” Vance replied.

To which point I said “You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

“No, I’m not,” he said. “These things are ten years old.”

I learned a very crucial lesson at that moment…that any digital format is only reliable for a couple years before it’s usurped by something more streamlined and less cumbersome – OR – it just stops working. The need to constantly update and re-archive digital files is downright maddening. There is no long-term, futureproof, failsafe digital carrier. Ever. It would be another five years before all drives were properly transferred to a relatively stable LTO format. And even then, not without RADAR drive “G” requiring a $1761.60 “clean room” recovery to save seven shows that would have otherwise just disappeared.

It sounds comical now, but wearing my “businessman” hat I broke out the calculator to amortize the proposal…deciding with an almost embarrassingly “duh” quickness that $251 per show was a reasonable enough fee to reclaim those ephemeral moments. Because there’s spirit in all these recordings. The unforeseen nostalgia of memories yet to be uncovered. Instances where the power of an assemblage of strangers in a room together can divine a psychically shared experience. Time that mattered to someone. Moments could now last forever,

One of those moments, cast off with barely any consideration, a seconds-long thought formulated into action in a more simple manner, appeared when Jack White signed the venue guest book after the show.

“Thanks Civic, you made my day and I shan’t forget it.”

And because of a wise $8000 investment made nearly a generation ago, you won’t either.

Thank god for RADAR.

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  1. Jolene
  2. Seven Nation Army
  3. In The Cold, Cold Night
  4. You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)
  5. Hello Operator
  6. Good To Me
  7. The Hardest Button to Button
  8. Hotel Yorba
  9. Small Faces
  10. Talkin’ Pillow By My Side Blues
  11. We’re Going To Be Friends
  12. Apple Blossom
  13. Ball And Biscuit
  14. I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart
  15. Death Letter / Motherless Children Have A Hard Time


  1. Let’s Build A Home
  2. Goin’ Back To Memphis
  3. The Union Forever
  4. Boll Weevil