By Ben Blackwell
What’s so wrong with being sent to Toledo anyway?
The White Stripes performance at the Bottle Rocket in 2001 (their fourth and final performance in Glass City) highlights the first recorded performance of “I Think I Smell A Rat.” The Sisyphean task of appropriately tagging “first-ever performance” of a band’s songs is a lake of fire that I cautiously dip my toes into. As shows earlier that month in Athens, OH and Louisvile possibly featured the song, the fact that no one appears to have captured proof of either leaves the truth lost to the mists of history. But April 20th in Toledo is likely the slowest tempo “I Think I Smell A Rat” was ever performed by Jack and Meg. Whereas the speed would be kicked up noticeably in future performances, the measured approach here feels almost…confrontational. The take on “Dead Leaves” is similarly restrained. A rare exploration of “Death Letter” as a set opener wildly leans into an aggressively delightful distorted ending to “Little Bird” while a charmed misremembering of the lyrics in “Your Southern Can Is Mine” reels with childish warmth.
A crowd small (and audible) enough to hear their specific song requests (the obscure vinyl-only “Handsprings!” or “Hotel Yorba” which hadn’t even been released yet) would not remain that way much longer. The tongue-in-cheek “deepest sympathies” to dear friends (and local blues-punk heroes) Henry and June is followed a few songs later with a more sincere thank you shout-out to the group. The ad-libbed “that’s me!” dropped in after “Jackson” in “Astro”, vocal gibberish resembling the phrase “Third Man” in “Screwdriver” …all these are sweet little chesnuts in this wonderful setlist from the briefest of transitional periods…mixing in, with guile, songs from the impending “White Blood Cells” with choice cuts from the band’s previous efforts.
All that said, over twenty years later and Jack White has not played Toledo under any guise since.