You don’t need to take out a second mortgage to hear the best White Stripes live shows…
The Jack White collectables range is getting ever bigger. In the month that Topps announced the release of a Jack White Baseball Card, White was not slow to release his own tour poster for a show in Fenway Park, Boston (yours on eBay for *just* $250…) depicting White in vintage baseball gear. How long can it be before White overtakes KISS in the novelty merchandise stakes? Can it be too long before we see White Stripes pinball machines, bubblegum machines and Jack White wearing Mighty-Boosh-style character (trademarked) face paint calling himself “The Lazaretto”?
Actually, let’s trust that day is a long way off yet. The difference between the two appears to be that White and his Third Man Records trading arm is focused on the music, and reviving old vinyl trends, including most notably the double live album. Indeed, the Third Man Vault appears to be specialising in live recordings, having released two double (actually one was a triple) live Jack White solo albums and two double live Raconteurs albums.
Most notable of all is of course the White Stripes material. Whilst there has been just one White Stripes live album on general release (and two DVDs), The Vault has quietly been releasing live recordings from The White Stripes’ past.
The latest is Under Amazonian Lights, a 2005 live show from the Get Behind Me Satan tour filmed in Teatris Amazonas Opera House, Manaus, Brazil. But be quick: the last day to buy this album is 31st January.
All of which begs a couple of questions. Which is the best live album? And are these Vault releases worth the money? Let’s take a look at all the live albums in turn…
The first White Stripes live LP was Live in Las Vegas released on 20 September 2003. This was a rare promo-only triple LP pressed up for V2 contest winners who were flown out to Vegas for the White Stripes show. Some say only 30-40 were pressed, whilst others estimate there are a few hundred. Of these a handful were signed by Jack & Meg. Until a 2013 Vault release, this was the best document of the Elephant tour.
In some respects the album is hardly slick: Meg’s voice is as fetchingly weak as ever during In The Cold Cold Night – she even goes to the bridge too early – whilst Jack White aborts “Offend In Every Way” halfway through because he realises the guitar he’s playing isn’t tuned to allow him to play a D-Minor chord. But this was always been an aspect of The White Stripes honest appeal. And they get away with it too. Original cost: n/a. Current value $400.
Under Blackpool Lights was our first glimpse of a live album – albeit on DVD, released in 2004. UBL is still in print.
Under Great White Northern Lights was the first official live vinyl / CD release in 2010, whilst the box set released at the same time had an alternative show, “Under Nova Scotian Lights”. In addition, that year Third Man Vault members could buy a second “B-Shows” live LP featuring alternative recordings. It’s fair to say that the “Icky Thump” era is pretty well covered by these releases and the accompanying documentary.
(UGWNL is still in print. B-shows release – Original cost: $60. Current value: £88).
The White Stripes Live In Mississippi: Released 2011. This album was recorded live July 31st, 2007 at Snowden Grove Amphitheater in Southaven, Mississippi and was their last ever show. Original cost: $60. Current value: £121.
In 2012 The Vault released a further album, Live at the Gold Dollar which dated to The White Stripes’ first ever live show on 14th August 1997. It came with a 7″ single of the duo’s first open mic slot a day or two before. It is raw, but the band are already fully formed, so this is a fascinating document. Original cost: $60. Current value: $58.
In 2013, Nine Miles from the White City surfaced in Vault package 16. This was a Live Recording from July 2nd, 2003 recorded at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, and covers the Elephant tour. Highlights include a version of Dylan’s “Love Sick”. Original cost: $60. Current value: £66.
In 2014, Vault 21 produced Live Under The Lights Of The Rising Sun, two live recordings of two supporting shows for The 18.104.22.168.’s from Tokyo, Japan dating back to 2000. Original cost: $60. Current value: $60 (note that a) this price may not include the 7″ that comes with every Vault package, and b) later vault releases have appreciated less in value than early ones, presumably as more and more people have cottoned on. It looks like future values will depend upon growth in the popularity of both vinyl and The White Stripes feeding demand).
These were The White Stripes’ first two overseas performances, so date to the “De Stijl” period. The Japan set in truth is a little sloppy. The band are still finding their feet. Things break down a few times in the second night. It’s all part of the band’s charm, of course, and even so, Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground gets a pre-White Blood Cells preview and there’s a cover of Iggy Pop’s “I’m Bored”, which sounds like a great idea, but doesn’t quite do justice to the original. However, by the time they had made it across to the UK in July the following year, the difference is striking.
How do we know?
Because perhaps the best White Stripes live recording I have heard is the one made for the John Peel Sessions, recorded at Maida Vale, North London in July 2001, and repeated in October of that year. Recorded less than a year after the Japan shows, the band is transformed.
It is thirty eight minutes and forty seconds of feedback, Neolithic drumming and absolute mayhem. Right from the opening segue of “Let’s Shake Hands”, “When I Hear My Name” and “Jolene”, there’s a perfect balance of a band playing absolutely in synchronicity, but still sounding like a raggedy garage band. It’s quite a tricky act to pull off. The slide guitar comes out for “Death Letter”, whilst that Peter Gunn theme never sounded so dangerous on an incendiary “Jack The Ripper”. The show ends on the Gene Vincent song “Baby Blue” which White added to the set as he and Peel had been discussing the latter’s love of Gene Vincent. Peel appeared a little overcome at the end.
I have a recording of the show Peel broadcast in October 2001. Whether it was because the set was so explosive we can’t be certain, but after four minutes, Peel’s CD player packed in and silence overtook the airwaves. In true John Peel style, after a few seconds he just took the CD it was recorded on, swapped machines and played it again, all the way from the start.
There are other radio shows, including the NPR All Songs Considered live radio show recorded at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbus, Maryland in 2006 and various radio sessions, including one show entitled “The Electric Lady Sessions” which dates to the Elephant period, and includes a great version of “Black Math”.
So don’t worry if your turntable has yet to be resurrected. If you are too late for the current vault release, or if your bank manager (or worse, your husband or wife) is likely to throw you disapproving looks were you to shell out for Vault releases, the NPR show is available at their website here and is a decent document of the Get Behind Me Satan tour.
And in my view, the best document of a live White Stripes show doesn’t have a lavish box set, coloured vinyl or accompanying DVD and postcards. But it doesn’t need one. And you can hear it here…
25 July 2001 live at Maida Vale. Repeated: 09 October 2001.
Let’s Shake Hands / When I Hear My Name / Jolene / Death Letter / Cannon / Astro / Jack The Ripper / Hotel Yorba / I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman / Screwdriver / We’re Going To Be Friends / You’re Pretty Good Looking / Bollweavil / Hello Operator / Baby Blue
Values taken from average sales price of last ten transactions on Discogs.com