One of the bigger news items from the indie rock world during the summer of 2003 was the car accident that left Detroit guitar slinger and White Stripes frontman Jack White with a badly broken finger.
Unable to play guitar, the Stripes were forced to cancel numerous summer shows, including a July 25 concert at Penn’s Landing. After some surgery and time off, the mangled digit recovered and the Stripes began to reschedule the canceled shows.
The Penn’s Landing show was relocated across the river to the massive Tweeter Center Nov. 24.
The evening’s festivities were kicked off with a dismal performance by Michigan noise-rockers Whirlwind Heat. Sounding like the music to look at blacklight posters by, Whirlwind Heat crossed that dreaded line in minimalist noise which separates artful cacophony from utter crap.
After their display of aural sadomasochism was finished, the audience was treated to watching cartoons on a large screen whilst the Stripes’ equipment was set up.
The White Stripes kicked off their set with “The Hardest Button to Button,” from their latest album, Elephant. It was with this song that an unfortunate flaw of their live performances was revealed: Jack can’t replicate the album’s sound and play both the rhythm and overdubbed lead guitar parts at the same time.
Aside from this nitpick, the set was chock full of great numbers from all four of the Stripes’ albums, with the addition of their excellent and passionately dire cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
While the majority of songs were from White Blood Cells and Elephant (“I Think I Smell a Rat,” “Black Math” and “Seven Nation Army”), the Stripes were able to lace the set with some of the better material from their pre-“Fell in Love With a Girl” repertoire, including “Apple Blossom” and “Screwdriver.”
Some tunes were reworked and lengthened into bluesy jams, including “I Fought Piranhas,” which evolved from a blues-drenched dirge to a quicker-paced, yet still doom-laden, rocker.
The garage hootenanny of “Hotel Yorba” inspired some stomping and clapping, but the majority of the audience seemed unable to move to the music.
The Stripes capped off the performance with an encore featuring “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine” and the Burt Bacharach classic “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.”
Overall, the duo’s performance was stoically solid, with Jack’s skinny white boy swagger and “big sister” Meg’s childlike pounding of the skins rounding out their stage presence.
Most of the tempos of the slower songs were jacked up to accommodate the intensity of live performance, but at some points it felt as though the peppermint twins were just rushing through their set.
The only extended pause was for Jack to joke about a pending lawsuit against a company that tried to use “Hello Operator” for a commercial, as if to hastily say “Don’t let the venue, ticket prices, and $20 T-shirts fool you, we’re not sellouts!”
The main drawback of the evening was the Tweeter Center itself, with the massive and mostly unenthusiastic crowd that it attracts. The torchbearers of Motor City “Rawk” looked mighty tiny on that big old stage.
Dustin M. Haberstumpf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org