The White Stripes: April 20, 2003 Boston, MA and May 19, 2003 Berlin, DE

Two exclusive archives from The White Stripes are now available for streaming in the app, featuring two 2003 shows; Boston on April 20 and Berlin on May 19. Sign up for a free trial now to hear these new shows plus the entire Third Man Records archival catalog.

From long time White Stripes fan Mike on this month’s ‘Third Man Thursday’ releases:

They’re Gonna Talk About You Still

When Jack White appeared in the film It Might Get Loud, he chose two influences to share with the cameras: Son House, the blues singer and guitarist – whose birthday it is today, and Flat Duo Jets, the two-piece band fronted by Dexter Romweber – who passed away last month. In tribute to those artists and the lasting power of influence, here are the White Stripes performances from Boston, where the band performed a cover of Flat Duo Jets’ Don’t Blame Me, and Berlin, where they brought Son House’s Grinnin’ In Your Face to the masses. Two of the band’s most widely shared concerts, each originally captured off the radio and circulated by fans. Like the music of those key influences, these performances are both familiar and essential, re-shared here upgraded and unedited for the first time.

With only 4 weeks between them, the concerts from Boston and Berlin reveal just how quickly the band’s performances were developing. Boston is a spontaneous run-through, with the new songs rapidly settling into their proper live versions, pure risk-taking live on the air. Berlin pushes the set further, resulting in an explosive ninety-minute go, one of the longest broadcasts the band had ever done. As soon as these shows hit the airwaves, they were immediately shared by fans as must-hear recordings from the tour.

During an interview before the show in Boston, the band were asked whether maintaining simplicity was still a goal, with Jack confirming “I don’t really want to evolve or grow in the band at all. I don’t want that false pretense, or to try and second guess things. We like living in this box we’ve created very much, and we don’t want to change.” And yet, even with that commitment, the Boston concert would be held at the Orpheum, a venue twice the size of the ones played on previous tours, and the Berlin concert would get moved from the Casino to the larger Columbiahalle, one of the first times that had happened to the band. So, while they may have been able to keep some things the same, they couldn’t stop others from evolving around them.

The spirit of wanting to preserve things would get echoed in other interviews, when discussing the band’s influences: “It’s wonderful to have influences. It’s wonderful to join that tradition of songwriters and storytellers, and join that family…telling the same story your way.” One of those stories was also Jack’s favorite song, Grinning In Your Face, by the blues legend Son House. Even though the band had been performing the song at shows going back to 1999, the Berlin broadcast would be the first time that most fans had ever heard it – included here as part of Death Letter. Notable too, as the song was from a record that wouldn’t have existed if not for a group of young fans inspired by the out-of-print recordings of the bluesman, going on a road trip in 1964 with the hopes that they could track him down and convince him to make music again. The result of that effort was the record “Father of Folk Blues” which Jack would discover by hearing John the Revelator played over the PA before a Radiohead concert. Just as John the Revelator would get memorialized on the White Stripes debut album, and Death Letter on De Stijl, the performance of Grinning In Your Face on the Berlin broadcast would serve as a key reference point of the Stripes covering the song. The band’s day in Berlin would turn out to be especially productive in that regard, as the soundcheck would also see them record a cover of Soledad Brothers’ St Ides of March, which would be released later that year as the B-side to The Hardest Button To Button.

Jack had been introduced to Flat Duo Jet’s “Go Go Harlem Baby” around the time he was working at an upholstery shop. And while Son House’s music would serve as a perfect example of the band re-telling a story their way, when the Stripes covered the Duo Jets, they played it faithful – true to the source. Don’t Blame Me was itself a cover, a story that singer and guitarist Dexter Romweber had re-told his way, but when the Stripes played it, they did it like Dex did. And just like Grinnin’ In Your Face at Berlin, the performance of Don’t Blame Me at Boston was also the first time that most fans had ever heard that song. The occasion was all the more significant because Dex was on the bill that night, performing with his sister Sara as the Dexter Romweber Duo, making the Stripes’ cover of Don’t Blame Me the rare experience of being able to pay tribute to someone who influenced you, with them actually in the room. When later asked how he felt about the impact that Flat Duo Jets had on others, Dex was gracious: “There are musicians that have influenced me that came before me that people don’t necessarily know about. It’s all just a natural lineage of stuff handed down. I’m not lost on the fact that people influenced me either. So, if Jack got something out of those records or he saw something that was valuable to him, I thought that was a positive thing because I had done the same thing.” In 2011, Third Man Records would reissue “Go Go Harlem Baby” on vinyl after being long out-of-print, continuing to pay that influence forward.

Everything has a source. Just as the mighty Mississippi starts as a small lake in Minnesota, that too gets fed by the creeks and springs around it. You can never fully go upstream, just as you can’t predict where something will go once it’s released, or how it might influence others. Just as these shows were spread by fans, here’s a reminder to go check out Son House’s “Father of Folk Blues” and Flat Duo Jets’ “Go Go Harlem Baby”, music kept in the light by those who understood that when you discover something good – whether on an out-of-print record, a song overheard at a concert, or a band’s performance on a radio broadcast – the best thing you can do is to share it with others, and let that love keep shining on.

4/20/03 BostonOrpheum Theatre

Listen to the show here.

Originally broadcast on the radio, Boston would be the first time that many fans would get to hear the new songs from Elephant performed live. Even though parts of the band’s opening concert from London had been broadcast a few weeks earlier, the performance from Boston is the one that feels like the proper return to the stage, especially given how accessible the show would be to fans. The concert at the Orpheum was the band’s second show this Easter Sunday, as they had also performed a brief set earlier in the afternoon for a group of contest winners at the nearby Paradise. For as familiar as this show is, it’s amazing when you realize how many risks the band took on this night. After the opening trio of Black Math, Dead Leaves, and Let’s Shake Hands, the first surprise arrives during I Think I Smell A Rat, with a cover of Party of Special Things to Do by Captain Beefheart, a rarity released as a 7 inch a few years before, but only played live a handful of times. You can hear Jack call out for the bass drum pattern “boom, boom, boom, boom…” just before kicking off the verses. This spontaneity can also be heard in the version of You’re Pretty Good Looking, with Jack pausing after the first verse to shout “gimme a click, Meg!”, singing the rest of the lyrics in the swing style that he would use at other shows throughout the year. Even though it was still early in the tour, the new songs were also getting updated, which you can hear in the performance of The Hardest Button to Button, with the vocals having shifted away from the deadpan delivery heard on the album to an all-out scream. Death Letter features the quote from Motherless Children before abruptly closing, indicating that something must have happened with the guitar. Rather than attempt a restart, Jack moves to the keyboards and performs an impromptu cover of Red Bird, an on-the-fly debut of the Leadbelly song. The show gets to a truly unique moment with the debut of Don’t Blame Me, an homage to one of Jack’s key influences, Flat Duo Jets. A special occasion, given that Duo Jets’ singer and guitarist Dex Romweber was the opener on this night, performing as part of a new duo with his sister Sara. Just like the show with Loretta Lynn in New York the night before, Boston is one of the few times when the band would get to share a bill with one of their musical idols. A week later they would do it again, opening for the Stooges at Coachella. As they close the show, the band go out on a high note, leaving the audience and the listeners wanting more, with Jack holding back laughter as he leads the crowd to the final verse in Boll Weevil.

5/19/03 BerlinColumbiahalle

Listen to the show here.

Just as the broadcast from Boston felt like the band’s official return to the stage, the way they sounded on the broadcast from Berlin was as if they’d suddenly hit their live peak. Having been moved from the Casino to the larger Columbiahalle due to demand, the band’s setlist is similarly expanded here, a masterful 30+ song display. Coming just weeks after the breakout shows in April and the exploratory performances in Scandinavia, Berlin takes the Elephant set and firmly baselines it into a 90 minute powerhouse. Like watching a racehorse lap effortlessly around the track, over and over, they just sound so healthy here. From the whammy-and-feedback opening in Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground to the final singalong in Boll Weevil, you get the full course – a virtual blueprint for the rest of the Elephant tour. The Hardest Button To Button gets a unique spot near the top of the set just after the openers, which extends the energy rush to great effect. Listen for the ad libbed line “Beating up Swanson and Damstra with a baseball bat!”, a funny reference to tourmates Whirlwind Heat during the marathon version of I Think I Smell A Rat, which also features When I Hear My Name, Take a Whiff On Me, and Mr Cellophane, now in its official live arrangement – complete with Jack letting the audience know when it’s time to adjust the rhythm of their clapping. After an excellent Hypnotize, Jack introduces the band to the audience with an appropriate “Hot and sweaty in Berlin!”. Death Letter follows and is just about perfect, complete with Jack yelling “Let’s go Meg!” which she responds to by joining him in a run that culminates with a fantastic burst on the kick drum. This sets up Grinnin’ In Your Face, one of the first times that listeners had ever heard the band perform the Son House song live. Again, just about perfect. There are performance highlights all over this show, including the adlib of “I can tell that we are going to be friends…Berlin, Berlin, Berlin” and the nod to Burt Bacharach and Marlene Dietrich before Look Me Over Closely. Even the out of tune guitar that pops up during the transition from Let’s Build A Home into Goin’ Back to Memphis still ends up resulting in a wonderful improvisation that they use to push through and close the main set. The encores play out like a continuous medley, including a complete version of Fell In Love With A Girl, the rare occurrence when they played the song in full. Having also used the soundcheck to record the future B-side cover of Soledad Brothers’ St Ides Of March, on this night they really could do no wrong. Do yourself a favor and fall in love with Berlin all over again, a mandatory performance from the Elephant tour.

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