White Stripes Take A Dive, Death Cab Ascends
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/AP
The Peel Box – the one that I promised to sample out and then didn’t post for a month – has a slew of White Stripes material. I’ve always taken them somewhat for granted and I’ll just come right out and say that the Get Behind Me Satan is a truly terrible record that will not stand the test of time. But via the Peel project, I’ve got a fresh appreciation for their early singles, which are forceful, funny and eccentric in all the right ways. Whatever you think of them, we should all be grateful for a band that is so refreshingly weird and finds it inspiration in ancient blues and punk. And despite all those strikes against them, The White Stripes are still popular in teenybopper America. An incredible and hope-creating triumph of marketing & smarts over the taste malaise of a nation.
Friday found Our Heroes in the unfriendly confines of San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium playing for the teenybopper crowd at Live 105′s Not So Silent Night. Coming off another big-selling album, a couple of hit singles, a first-time tour of Eastern Europe (where it’s hard to imagine they didn’t go over BIG) and victory lap around the New York late night talk show circuit, this night should have been an easy win for them. Stand up in front of the kids, show them how it’s done, play the hits, blow some minds with some Delta blues and Deeeetroit raunch. Instead, disaster ensued, leaving me and my friends wondering if we would ever see the Stripes together again.
Jack & Meg had the unenviable task of following Death Cab For Cutie, another band we’ve seen play umpteen times in good times & bad, in front of a crowd that hung on Ben Gibbard’s every word. DCFC played confidently and politely, running through most of this year’s desultory Plans while throwing in the odd chestnut from earlier indie-days records. Having followed their travails for a while, this is a band that truly seems to have arrived, full of confidence and with a big sound that occasionally (like a lot of the indie bands bursting through the airwaves) recalls U2. With their new fuller-produced sound, chestnuts like “Company Calls” sounded relatively compact and colorless. I’m not a big fan of Plans, but played live it did sound impressive and big, even in the cavernous echo-y Civic. Death Cab is not going away anytime soon.
One of my favorite things about seeing The White Stripes live is their road crew; it too is forced to wear the red, black and white motif as it putters about the stage set before the show. We were standing next to the soundboard, and even the soundman was in full regalia.
Another thing I like is that they are f***in’ loud! And on that count, they did not disappoint. After a long delay, Jack and Meg raced onstage and started slicing into their best-known material, like “Blue Orchid” and “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground.” It wasn’t their crowd – only a few people were wearing red & black – but goddamn if Jack wasn’t going to go for it.
But something was deeply, weirdly wrong with Meg. She was completely off time, playing the wrong parts at the wrong times, and was generally blowing it. It was so bad, this could have been a first rehearsal with her never having heard the songs before. My friends and I all looked at each other dumbstruck. Could this be for real? Meg will never win any drumming awards, and any fan will tell you that that’s not really her M.O. as part of the band, but this was preposterously sloppy.
Jack felt it, too. After a terrible “Hotel Yorba”-”Death Letter” medley, Jack went over to Meg and whispered something at her. From my vantage, it looked like he was pissed and telling her “I’ll do a few songs, you take a break.” And Meg left the stage. This was also weird, because we’ve seen The White Stripes probably five times and never seen her leave the stage when Jack takes his usual solo turn.
Jack ran through three songs on his own, seemed to realize something was horribly wrong and ran offstage. We knew something was up because they were only 15 minutes into a 60-minute set and the sound guy next to us was freaking out, cuing the iPod for the between-sets music and whispering frantically into his walkie-talkie.
After a 3-minute delay with the crowd becoming restless, Jack and Meg reappeared and tentatively ran through a few more songs before calling it a night. Was Meg messed up? Was she just having a bad night? Or was Jack playing loosely enough that she couldn’t follow? Granted this was probably a tough night for them to get motivated for – stuck playing a holiday radio showcase in a crap venue in front of a semi-caring teeny-bopper crowd – but this struck us long-time White Stripes fans as a really serious event and left us wondering if this could somehow be a harbinger for the end of the band.
An early 7″ highlight from The White Stripes, direct from John Peel’s wooden box.
Plus a Death Cab song from the new album that I didn’t think they could play, yet they pulled off with aplomb. This song for me highlights all the best and worst things about Plans: a relatively unmemorably DCFC song, played and produced beautifully.
The White Stripes – Hand Springs (7″ version)
Death Cab For Cutie – Different Names For The Same Thing
UPDATE: I’m not the only one who noticed.
The Modern Age: What Happened to Meg White at the San Fran Show?