By Ben Blackwell
The West Coast run in July of 2001 was arguably the most exhilarating span of tour dates I ever had the pleasure of accompanying the White Stripes on. All the shows were sold out, each night some exciting name would show up at the gig unexpectedly, the band was shit hot on fire and all the building hype and furor was unlike anything we’d ever experienced before and arguably would never experience again.
So the White Stripes fourth San Francisco gig in just over four months was all of those things and more. From my recollection, the previous night’s performance at Bimbo’s was just a hair-off…the supper club-style setting not completely conducive to the vibe the Stripes were putting out on that evening.
It also appeared to be an early example (the earliest?) of a weird phenomenon that befell the Stripes for the rest of their career. When doing a two-night stand in a city… the first crowd is usually…not as enthusiastic as it could be. The second night was almost always more than compensatory for this, but it was something that was consistently observed and talked about and at least attempted to “solve” for years.
This is clearly evidenced by the gig kicking off with “Little Room”, a unique placement in the set for this song which usually operated as an interstitial interlude. “Little Room” is a reaction to the subdued crowd reaction the previous evening AND a great way to kick up the energy for the start of the show.
Of particular interest to me in this set is a nice sixty-second stretch of guitar and cymbal crash hits that is wholly set apart from the songs it is sandwiched between. Similarly, structured hits would oftentimes telegraph the beginning of “Death Letter” but on this date, it exists just as a unique standalone statement. Here it’s been titled “Improvisational Accents” and it’s a nice capture of a little moment that would otherwise be forgotten to the ages.
Additionally, the interpolation of the traditional song “John The Revelator” into “Canon” found Jack lying prostrate, screaming the words through one of the pick-ups of his guitar. Listening here, the unhinged energy of the recording ably conveys the raw, intense vibe in the room on that evening, twenty years ago today.
A left-turn segue into Carl Perkins’ classic “Matchbox” is a rare cover of the 1957 Sun Records gem, which as far as I have an accounting of, is the only time the band ever slipped this nugget into a performance.
Both “You’re Pretty Good Looking” and “Fell In Love With A Girl” are incomplete here and I have to surmise that somewhere between each track’s respective end and beginning there was an encore break. The specifics though seem to be lost to time and I look back thinking about the simple, easy notes I could’ve taken at the moment to more completely illustrate stories like this. But oh well.
It all wraps up conveniently, almost recalling “Improvisational Accents”, with explosive, expressive blasts of guitar and drums at the conclusion of “Jack The Ripper.” For a run of shows that were all captivating in their own way, this Great American Music Hall show definitely still holds its own twenty years later.
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