By Ben Blackwell
Hometown shows are, oftentimes, a mess. The guest list is a clusterfuck, some weirdo from high school you haven’t seen in a decade monopolizes your time, dinner springs upon you like an unwieldy beast that you’ve never had to tackle previously (despite making it work every day in your “regular” life in town). The benefit though is that the performances are so much more likely to be sublime. And the White Stripes at the Magic Stick (coupled with the Gold Dollar as close as they would ever have to a “home field”) on March 31st, 2001 is absolutely sublime.
As the culmination of three Midwestern dates that weekend (Cleveland and Chicago were the Thursday/Friday shows) the run was hot on the heels of the Stripes breakout performances at South-By Southwest earlier that month. The momentum was building. The shows were only increasing in intensity.
While at this point twenty years later, the setlist is fairly in line with other Stripes’ gigs from that moment, the awkwardness of “Boll Weevil” dropping in the middle of the set will never cease to feel like a glitch in the fabric of time. So clearly is that song supposed to be a set closer. In that same mindset, “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” NOT kicking off a show, but tucked in the later third of the set, just smacks of a work-in-progress. The White Stripes were always game to adjust and call audibles and pull things on the fly…but once a move was so clearly perfected, well, there’s a hard time breaking out of that comfort.
A particular treat in this performance is the first and only appearance of the red-and-white Danelectro double-neck guitar. The stock clear pickguards were hand-painted red by Jack himself. With the auxiliary neck strung up in the baritone register, the axe is deployed for the “Astro/Jack the Ripper” medley followed by “The Big Three Killed My Baby”…and then never again. To hear Jack’s thoughts on it at the time, he didn’t feel like he should be doing anything that would explicitly court MORE comparisons to Led Zeppelin.
(For those keeping tabs, that guitar would show up on stage six years later ably utilized by the local Detroit garage band Tin Knocker)
I seem to recall selling copies of the Stripes Sub Pop single at the merch table on this night. Or if we didn’t…we certainly discussed the possibility of doing so. Maybe we only sold a few? For everything I remember in the past 20 years, there’s a thousand I’ve forgotten so the fact there’s a solid VHS video of the gig on YouTube is a nice accompaniment here. Enjoy.