The White Stripes: Chicago, IL, New Years Eve, 2003

An exclusive archive from The White Stripes is now available for streaming in the app, featuring a New Years Eve performances from Chicago, IL. From long time White Stripes fan Mike on this month’s ‘Third Man Thursday’ releases:

New Years Eve 2003: A Finale With Friends

To close out the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Elephant tour, it’s only fitting to go out big, just as the band did. For the final Third Man Thursday of 2023, here is the White Stripes New Year’s Eve concert from 2003, back at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. A special performance to finish the year, featuring a little help from some friends, and artwork from longtime Stripes-collaborator Rob Jones.

12/31/03 Chicago: Aragon Ballroom – LISTEN NOW

What to say about 2003? Over 100 days of shows played across 5 continents. In clubs, theaters, sports arenas. At festivals, on the radio, on TV, at a primary school. A music video showing a girl with a broken wrist. A music video showing a boy with a broken finger. A record that turned from Gold into Platinum (and went double platinum earlier this year). Planes, trains, and automobiles. Interviews, interviews, interviews. And still, no two performances or setlists ever alike.

Here is the final show of the year, with the White Stripes bringing the Elephant back into the room at the Aragon. With parts of this show broadcast live on CNN, the return to Chicago was a party on a grand stage to close out a grand year, shared with a global audience of millions.

For this special occasion, the band had brought along two groups of friends. The first opening act on this night was the band Blanche, who’s members shared a history with Jack going all the way back to Goober & The Peas and Two Star Tabernacle. A cover of Blanche’s song “Who’s to Say” was featured on the single for “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, and they would be joining the band on the upcoming January tour of the UK.

The second openers on the bill were the Flaming Lips, a group who also had a connection with the band. While the Stripes had spent 2003 unleashing Elephant on the world, the Flaming Lips were also on the road, helping Yoshimi battle those Pink Robots. It would be at a show in Detroit the year before, where the Lips were playing as both opener and backing band for Beck (just as they would at this show for the Stripes), where Jack would present frontman Wayne Coyne with a gift that would be memorialized in the song “Thank You Jack White (For The Fiber-Optic Jesus That You Gave Me)”. After Jack had injured his finger in the car accident in July, the first concert that the Stripes would have to cancel would be the T In the Park festival in Scotland. It would be the Flaming Lips who would fill in for the band, taking to the stage dressed in red and white and opening with a reworked cover of “Seven Nation Army”, featuring lyrics that included bits from the Butthole Surfers’ “Moving to Florida”, which you can just make out on the performance of the song here, with Jack sharing the verses with Coyne, who can be heard singing through a megaphone, complete with air-raid siren.

The New Year’s Eve show is a wonderful capture of lightning in the bottle for both the White Stripes and the Flaming Lips. While the Stripes and their minimalism would be on their way to the UK to immortalize the power of simplicity on film, the Lips would soon be bound for Coachella, with animal costumes, floodlights, fake blood, and a space bubble in tow.

From the very start of the Stripes performance on this New Year’s Eve, there’s an audible sense of joy, with the band no doubt refreshed after having had a month off since the end of the November leg. Perhaps not surprising that the set here leans heavily on pre-Elephant tracks, including a few callbacks to the last time they played the Aragon on 7/2, by opening with “When I Hear My Name” in place of “Black Math”, and featuring adlibs of “Aluminum” and “Cool Drink of Water Blues.” The setlist is a perfect summary to close the year, featuring a little bit from every era of the band’s history, with a song like “The Big Three Killed My Baby” brought current with an adlib commenting on the ever-present political climate of the time.

The version of “We’re Going To Be Friends” is simply beautiful, with the Flaming Lips providing gentle backup on guitar and bass, while frontman Coyne can be seen in the footage from the show giving Jack a hug mid-song, smearing fake blood on his shirt. And of course that Stripes/Lips Seven Nation Army mashup, kicking off the New Year as a shower of red, white, and black balloons were dropped from the ceiling onto the crowd. This show is a fitting celebration to close out 2003, complete with party favors, as attendees were given a small viewfinder which showed a message of “Happy New Year 2004 from the White Stripes”.

While it was the end of an incredible year, the Elephant tour wasn’t quite at the finish line just yet, with more shows to come in January. As Jack would say after “Seven Nation Army”, now officially in 2004, “Well, we can’t stop now, right?”

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