The White Stripes: April 17, 1999 Detroit, MI

An exclusive archive from The White Stripes just dropped for streaming in the app, featuring April 17, 1999 from Detroit, MI!

Sign up for a free trial now to hear this newly mastered show plus the entire Third Man Records archival catalog. From White Stripes archivist/historian Ben Blackwell on this month’s ‘Third Man Thursday’ release:

The White Stripes 1999 Tour Archive

There are moments, ever so brief, that feel like an entire room has catalyzed and are all speaking the same language. Even if speaking vaguely or in code, everyone understands fully.

So while I cannot speak for the rest of the 100 or so folks that were at the Magic Stick on April 17th, 1999, I can speak to how *I* felt.

For establishing purposes, exactly 25 years ago, on April 17th, 1999 the White Stripes played in the middle of a bill with Gore Gore Girls opening and the Compulsive Gamblers headlining. I was sixteen years old.

Barely a month earlier, it appeared that the White Stripes were done. With their cessation being reported in the Detroit News, the fact that a DAILY newspaper was covering such underground countercultural gossip still feels beguiling. Yet in the span of a few weeks, the Stripes had played a triumphant non-farewell show (March 13th, 1999) and were most definitely soldiering on, while Jack White’s other current musical concern, the Go, had unceremoniously kicked him out.

I guess this was relatively big news in the small world of Detroit garage rock. In hindsight, it seems pretty insignificant. So when the Stripes roll into “Astro” at the tail end of their set and Jack substitutes in the names of his former bandmates in the Go “Bobby”, “Marc” and “John” as “do(es) the astro” the feeling in the air, to me, was “oh man, he’s giving it to ‘em.”

To follow it up with the ending verse impromptu singing “Maybe someone has an ego!

and “Why don’t you do what you want to, girl?” (with what I would interpret as foreshadowing of future attack-like songs as “There’s No Home For You Here (Girl)” and “Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine”) and it all had the allure of an up-to-the-minute newscast, made up in real time, for the couple dozens friends and scenesters gathered there that evening, all of whom knew the score.

As the song concluded, you faintly hear a request for the Go song “Meet Me At The Movies” to which Jack replies on mic “Somebody wanna hear “Meet Me At The Movies?” It’s the wrong band!”

The Stripes performance, overall, is just so different from any single show they’d ever played before or would play after. First ever appearances of gems like covers of Iggy Pop’s “I’m Bored” and Earl King’s “Trick Bag” (done in the style of the Gories) alongside Jack and Meg’s first ever performance of “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known.” They also cover Brendan Benson’s “Crosseyed” for seemingly the only time ever with Brendan himself smack dab front and center watching the proceedings.

Interesting little moments abound…the show-opening “I’m Bored” is quickly scuttled as Meg’s bass drum pedal snaps. She coordinates a quick replacement with Deb Agolli (drummer for openers the Gore Gore Girls) that precipitates Jack’s solo take on “Trick Bag”

(For years my recall is that I was up there helping Meg attach the borrowed pedal to her kick drum. But just now, at this moment, I’m half-thinking that I watched it from the crowd. In my head, I see Deb, coincidentally wearing red and white, behind the drums with Meg. But I also see myself crouched down, futzing in the dark, helping Meg. The video of the show conveniently shows neither myself nor Deb onstage during any of this. There’s a possibility my memories are lies)

But once all is back up-to-speed, Jack just starts “I’m Bored” from the beginning.

There’s a simplicity to taking the song from the top, an innocence to it, a “we’re gonna do this right” stick-to-it-iveness that I tend to think most bands would not actually endeavor. Most bands would just move past it and try to pretend that they never even attempted the song in the first place, let alone start their set with it.

And that’s just one of many reasons why the White Stripes were objectively great from such an early point in their career.

Other treats include an early run of “The Big Three Killed My Baby” that does not start with the trilling three scratches of the guitar. Seemingly every version performed afterwards would start just like the album recording…with those ominous trills. Jack introduces Meg as his little sister. Jack also, for the first time we’ve documented, signed off the show with a “My sister thanks you and I thank you.” Little Easter eggs all of them.

And while there’s no real evidence here to point to proving so, we all know that this is the evening that Jack White would pay a couple hundred bucks to Compulsive Gambler’s Jack Yarber for his red Airline guitar that in short order would become an iconic piece of the White Stripes imagery.

My favorite moment of the entire show unfolds in the middle break of “Astro” where Jack drops a curveball…

What did the hen dog say to the snake?
No more crawfish in this lake
Just a hair, just a little bit, just a hair, just a little bit
Well what did the woman who came to the side,
one hand on her leg, one hand on her thigh
Good lord, have mercy, good lord, have mercy

This is a slightly altered take on George Johnson’s version of “Jack The Rabbit” as featured in the 1978 John Lomax film The Land Where The Blues Began. Johnson was a gandy dancer, a now-obsolete job of manual railroad track maintenance. This is a work song, plain and simple, Johnson’s repeated lines of “just a hair, just a little bit” actually instructions to the rest of his crew in regards to which increment or degree they should be adjusting the track. It’s chilling, it’s got unforced attitude, it’s beautiful.

In sharing this clip with Jack this week, twenty-five years later, he said he had absolutely no recollection of what it was or where it even came from.

But it felt so familiar, both then and now. Like a nursery rhyme I’d heard my entire life. Like something EVERYONE had heard their entire life, certainly everyone in the room. Like it was meant to be there, that it had always been there, and would always be there, smack dab in the middle of “Astro.”

The point I’m trying to make is that for these fleeting moments on this night, the demarcation of stage and floor were largely irrelevant. What was happening wasn’t a band playing for a crowd. What was happening was a conversation, an education, a therapy, a laugh, a finger-pointing, all wrapped into one. And so much of it, hell, maybe all of it, happened just that once, seemingly to be experienced only by those in the room. Fleeting.

So should you give a shit that this is effectively a spruced-up audience recording? Not in the least. Just sit back and enjoy all the swirling different factors and reactors that melted together to create a one-of-a-kind evening a quarter of a century ago.

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