The White Stripes: Scandinavia 2003

Three exclusive archives from The White Stripes are now available for streaming in the app, featuring performances from Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen during a three-night run in May of 2003. From The White Stripes’ archivist Ben Blackwell on this month’s ‘Third Man Thursday’ releases:

Having survived the all-eyes-on-them April tour in support of the release of Elephant, the band kicked off the European leg in May with a three day journey through Scandinavia.

It didn’t get much attention at the time, but the Elephant touring cycle was actually supposed to start in March, with a secret performance at SXSW. With that show canceled after Meg broke her arm, and the album’s release pulled-in by two weeks due to online leaks, April became a tightly packed end-to-end event. Pretty much every one of the performances that month had an additional occasion to go along with it, like an insanely-curated showcase. From the release of the album on April 1st and the 5-star review in Rolling Stone, to the tour kickoff in Wolverhampton on the day Elephant went to number 1 in the UK, to the debut of the video for “Seven Nation Army” – where you can catch a glimpse of the cast on Meg’s left arm, to the radio broadcast from London – the first time that many fans would get to hear the new songs live, and then back stateside for the hometown shows in Detroit, to performing with Loretta Lynn in New York, the afternoon club show and evening radio broadcast from Boston, an unprecedented 4 night residency on Late Night with Conan O’Brien performing to an audience of millions each night, to the iconic photoshoot with famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, to the one-shot-on-goal at Coachella back when the festival was a single weekend – as openers for the reunion of Iggy and the Stooges no less, and then finishing off with back-to-back nights in San Francisco “the first city to like us” where a fan would make good on that history by throwing an elephant squeeze toy onstage that Jack would keep on his keyboards throughout the rest of the Elephant tour (which you can still see in Under Blackpool Lights), and then a final stop coming back down to earth with a low-key club show in San Diego on April 30th. Just as soon as the month would come to a close, the band would head right back to England for a one-off festival slot on May 4th, Elephant would be certified Gold on May 9th, and they would be off to Scandinavia to start the trek across Europe.

To get a sense of just how unique these shows are, look no further than the way the run starts, with Jack taking to the stage at the appropriately-named Cirkus in Stockholm with lines from Arthur Brown’s “Fire”: “I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you fire!”. Hell yes.

These shows feel a lot like a residency, except instead of being 3 nights at the same venue, it’s 3 days across 3 countries. They are breaking in new ideas, debuting songs, and stretching the sets longer – culminating with the show in Copenhagen, the longest they had ever done by that point. This is the sound of the band in the Elephant workshop.

While these performances each have their own character, there is also a common thread across the three nights via the introduction of the song “Mr Cellophane” from the musical Chicago. A small addition to an already varied set, serving as a vaudeville counterpoint to the sinister blues of “Take a Whiff on Me” introduced in April. While a natural fit, there is also a bit of symbolism in the choice. A song about a man who feels invisible, performed by a band that was quite literally everywhere at the time. The performance of “Mr Cellophane” at these shows would get a different rendition each night, fitting with the feel of each show. The opening night in Stockholm gets the live debut, performed as a single verse and chorus sung with the keyboards. The second night in Oslo gets an additional verse, with the vocals getting a looser and more energetic delivery, and the third night in Copenhagen gets an unique acapella version – like the setlist that night, stretched out for maximum effect.
There is an embarrassment of riches here. In addition to the debut of “Mr Cellophane” and the first known performance of Little Richard’s “Ooh! My Soul” since the Jack White and The Bricks show in 1999, Stockholm is a powerhouse run-through of the live set, complete with a shout out to local heroes The Hives – via a quote of their song “Main Offender” during “Astro” and “Jack the Ripper.” Oslo gets the live debut of “Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine” alongside brutal versions of “Death Letter” and “One More Cup of Coffee” both nearly collapsing in a fury of out of tune glory. Copenhagen brings the full “Razzle Dazzle” via a stunning 36 song set, consolidating the ideas from the previous two nights and serving as a benchmark for the shows to come.

There’s perhaps no better advertisement for these shows than the poster that originally accompanied them, featuring a circus monkey bashing away at the band’s instruments. Equal parts playful innocence and unpredictable mayhem, nicely foreshadowing the performances themselves. For as much as one could gush over the setlists and the one-of-a-kind moments here, the shows are made all that much better when you realize how loose they are. A skipped lyric here, a false start there, a guitar out of tune. And just like the monkey on that poster, look at how much fun they’re having.

Later in the year, the band would sit down for an interview with David Dye on NPR’s World Café. Seek out the full interview, and you’ll be treated to an in-studio performance of “Mr Cellophane.” You’ll also hear this quote from Jack, a guiding principle for the ages: “It’s like when you don’t wanna do something perfect, it’s like trying to be an anti-perfectionist. It’s really perfect by not trying to be perfect.”

Stockholm – May 13, 2003
From the unique opener of lines from Arthur Brown’s “Fire” to the “Stockyard, Stockhouse, Stockholm!” introduction to the audience, and the debut of “Mr Cellophane” from the musical Chicago, the enthusiasm here is off the charts. Listen to the off-mic yells from Jack when the guitar cuts out during the intro to “Seven Nation Army” before coming back in with a snarl, or the shout of “Alright Meg!” to kick off “Let’s Shake Hands,” which features “Clarabella” and a brief quote from Little Richard’s “Lucille” before segueing into “Ooh My Soul”, the only known performance by the Stripes, and the first since the Jack White and the Bricks shows in 1999. After a mic-drop in “John The Revelator” something falls onto the keyboards, holding down a note that carries over into “Ball and Biscuit”, where Jack uses the error to his advantage by tuning his Airline to pitch. Even with that technical issue, the version of “Biscuit” here is still unique, as it’s the first to feature the riff from Howling Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”, which would also get thrown in the next night and would feature periodically throughout the rest of the band’s live career. There is also the playful “Did anybody make any mistakes today?” exchange, a nod back to shows in the early days when Jack would engage in similar dialogue with the audience. Look out for the insertion of lyrics from the Hives “Main Offender” during “Astro” and “Jack the Ripper” and the post-show shoutout to both the Hives and Sahara Hotnights. An excellent start to the tour.

Oslo – May 14, 2003
With a warm “Hello Norway! My name is Jack, and this is my big sister Meg on the drums, from Southwest Detroit, and we think you’re pretty good looking!” the surprises continue. This show gets the first live performance of “Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine”, played as if it had been in the set for years. “Mr Cellophane” again gets an airing, with a second verse added. “Ball and Biscuit” again gets the quote from “Smokestack Lightning”, with a third person switch-up in the lyrics with “Jack White’s strength is ten fold!” “Hotel Yorba” also gets a unique reference to a “dirty old road in Grand Rapids Michigan!”. Meg had a cold during this run of shows, and just makes it to the last lines of “In the Cold Cold Night” before giving a polite apology “you’ll have to forgive my cold!” Adding to just how intimate this gig is, this may be the only show to end the main set with “We’re Going to Be Friends”, complete with Jack asking the crowd “Are we friends yet Norway?” before joking “How about that Meg? You thought you didn’t have any friends!”. Matching this warmth is a good bit of chaos. Listen to “Death Letter” going full self-destruct into a storm of out of tune feedback, Jack going full scream battling the Airline at the end of “One More Cup of Coffee” – making it one of the best live renditions of the song, and “Cannon” getting an insertion of “St. James Infirmary” with a fantastic extended guitar solo section before going straight into “Boll Weevil” to close out yet another excellent show.

Copenhagen – May 15, 2003
A special show to close out the run. Even the intro music is unique here, as the band take the stage to the sound of “The Wells Fargo Wagon” from The Music Man being played over the house speakers: “Oh, the Wells Fargo Wagon is a ‘comin, now I don’t know how I could wait to see. It could be something for someone who is no relation, but it could be something special just for me…” This is the longest show that the band had ever done up until this point. We get yet another variation on “Mr Cellophane”, this time as a unique acapella rendition between “You’re Pretty Good Looking” and “Hello Operator.” Instead of “Death Letter”, there is the combination of “Stop Breaking Down” into “Little Bird.” “Look Me Over Closely” gets a one-time quote of “Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago as an opener, and this show features both “Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine” and “Hypnotize” – one of the few to feature both songs in the same show, alongside covers of “Clarabella”, “Small Faces”, and an absolutely stunning rendition of “Five String Serenade” by Arthur Lee as a bookend to an excellent “Offend In Every Way.” There are songs spanning all 4 albums here, played one after another after another. By the time they get to “Boll Weevil”, Jack gives a laugh, acknowledging “This is the last verse of the last song of the night!” Unlike the previous two nights, there isn’t much between song banter here. Not much else to say here that the music doesn’t already make crystal clear. A truly inspired performance that sets the bar for the rest of the Elephant tour. An absolute must hear.

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