Review: The White Stripes Early Years Recaptured with ‘White Blood Cells’ Live Album

White Stripes - Courtesy

By AVA LIVERSIDGE

Jack White is and always has been a man possessed. The acesiticsm with which he approaches his craft has left him essentially peerless, unmatched, and navigating a dominion of his own creation. It’s this earnest obsession that often sets White at odds with fame and the music industry at large. To trace the roots of this antagonism, one must look to the White Stripes’s third album, White Blood Cells (2001) — their mainstream breakout and first taste of notoriety.

In honor of the record’s 20th anniversary, White’s own label, Third Man Records, put out an unreleased Stripes live performance that debuted the record just before it came out in June 2001: Live at the Gold Dollar, a venue of seminal importance in the duo’s hometown of Detroit. The release includes live takes of all 16 tracks on the record — live recordings being portents of genius whenever the Stripes are involved.

Motor City is for cynics and the Stripes’ rise to fame was met with frosty disdain from other members of their garage rock ilk. The calamity, severity, and potency the performance yields all testify to this tension and of much to prove. The duo is ever-unpolished, in true decrepit DIY fashion, and the recording, taken straight from the venue’s soundboard, remains virgin and untouched by audio purifiers. Jack’s signature airstream squeaks loudly. Meg’s snare/symbol rotation clangs proudly. When playing live, the Stripes famously and uniquely stand up to their studio recordings and while the shows certainly don’t sound polished, they’re not struggling to pull off multi-layered studio takes. They make records to perform records.

Without a setlist, Jack maneuvers the two in and out of their latest tracks with bulky, but quintessentially Stripe-y transitions. With fuzz tones dominating and a Whammy at the ready for spontaneous soloing, it’s clear the Stripes were beginning to hit the stride that would take them through their next several years of a heyday. Authenticity floods the recording and a certain brand of nostalgia rises amidst the blunders: “Now Mary” undergoes a false start, Meg’s thumping is woefully out of time on their electric rendition of “Hotel Yorba,” and the keys accompagnement on “I’m Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman” is seemingly being made up on the spot.

These idiosyncrasies, these pockets of humanness, work parallel with the veritable genius that is the White Stripes. It is playing live when Jack White practices the foundational importance of creative stress and limitations that he preaches, and he truly is preaching. As the duo balances on the precipice of stardom, these missteps and the turbulence they spawn is what reminds us of why it’s easy to believe the White Stripes, why it’s so plain that they’re telling the truth. To honor the Stripes’  come-up via White Blood Cells 20th anniversary is to honor the establishment of a new aim for musical veracity.