I have complained in the past about feeling obligated to write concert reviews when I had nothing to say. 119 reviews will do that to a guy. This one, though, I can’t really explain how much I’ve been looking forward to writing this one. Often, I struggle just to find something to say; this time, I just want to do everything justice.
In the theatre, waiting for the show to begin, Mika and I were discussing the first time that we’d each heard the White Stripes. Only after the fact did I realize that it was noteworthy that we even remembered. I mean, I listen to a lot of music and I like a lot of bands, but something has to really stand out to me in order to be instantly memorable.
The story really isn’t anything that great, but I’ll tell it anyway because I like to provide context and I love to pad my wordcount. I was in Ian’s car. When we both worked at the computer school, there was a stretch where we worked the same hours, and he’d drive me home in exchange for my bus fare. I got a quicker, friendlier, nicer ride home, and he got parking money for the next day. And sometimes we’d rap to Run DMC, which was nerdishly awesome. But this one time, he was playing the White Stripes. It was just a selection of random MP3s that he’d downloaded, mostly from White Blood Cells, which, at the time, was their new album.
I couldn’t really tell you what the appeal even was, but it was instantaneous. I don’t pretend to be a great music historian, and I’m not even that good at describing what I’ve heard. I didn’t know anything about the band, their influences, or that only two people were responsible for making all that noise. I just knew it was simultaneously very familiar and unlike anything else I was listening to at the time. And the rest was history, I guess. I bought the older albums and eagerly awaited the new ones. I fit their songs into mixtapes (where appropriate – making mixtapes is both a science and an art form, after all). I watched the music videos, which were all visually and stylistically unique. I got the concert DVD and scoured the internet for bootlegs and rarities.
But there was one thing that was missing – the live show. Years ago, Ian knew someone who flew from Saskatoon to Detroit to see them. It made sense at the time. The White Stripes were one of those bands that were too big to be small but too small to be big. Bands like that still do Canadian tours, but they do the famous cross-Canada tour of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. If I was really lucky, they’d hit Calgary.
Then, a little over two months ago, Mika sent me an email. In its entirety, it read “Try not to pee your pants,” and included a link to indie-rock dork hell website Pitchfork. And there it was. The White Stripes. Saskatoon. Canada Day. I did not, in fact, pee my pants, but this took more effort than I care to admit.
I tried not to get my hopes up. Two months is a long time, and certainly long enough for something to go horribly, horribly wrong. Still, getting tickets to the show became an all-consuming passion. The day before tickets were to go on sale, I checked out Ticketmaster and discovered the existence of a MuchMusic presale. I raced off to MuchMusic’s website and poked around until I found the password. Within minutes, I had two tickets. Sure, they were in the second balcony at the back of the theatre, but we were going and that was what counted. I was thrilled.
And then the next day happened.
And I was at work.
And it was 9:58 a.m. Two minutes until the general sale.
And I got to thinking.
What else was out there? Were there good seats left after the presales? If I was right on the ball, what could I get? It wouldn’t hurt to check, right?
This was how I wound up with a second pair of tickets. In the second row.
As in, with only one row of people between us and the White Stripes.
Now I was REALLY trying to not get my hopes up. And failing miserably.
The tour began. I was afraid it wouldn’t. And the White Stripes were really playing shows. At least one in every Canadian province and territory. It’s not how most American bands would begin a tour to support their brand new album, but they’re not most bands. Not only were the White Stripes playing shows in every province, but they were also putting on very brief free shows in random places in most towns that they were playing in. I had hopes of catching one in Saskatoon, but I didn’t hear about anything happening. Didn’t matter. We had tickets to the big show. In the second row.
Like I said, I also had a pair of tickets in the balcony, but they weren’t hard to get rid of. The show sold out fairly quickly, which would mean there were about 2,000 people there.
We got to the theatre at a little after 7:00. Lots of other folks were on their way as well. Some had clearly been there for a while, and were returning to their cars with t-shirts, CDs, records, and posters. I thought about picking something up myself, but didn’t want to carry it around for the whole show – and either way, the lineup was massive. I wouldn’t have made it through in time. Instead, we wandered around and saw John (who was excited) and Travis (who was also excited). Travis and I were both wearing t-shirts with sharks on them (mine: red and white, $9 at Superstore; his: full-colour, the kind of thing you’d get from someone who went to Sea World) but he didn’t seem to appreciate that we were twinsies. Sad.
We found our seats. Did I mention they were in the second row? It was at this point that I quit trying to quit try to get my hopes up. I was here. Everyone was here. We were in the second row. I was grinning and giggling and thrilled just to be there. Eventually I was told to knock it off because other people were laughing at me. I was perfectly fine with this. We were SO close and the show was really really going to happen and we were really really there. Other people felt the same way – pretty much everyone around us was grinning and giggling as they found their seats and realized just how close they were.
The opener was Dan Sartain. I knew nothing about Dan Sartain, and I now know next to nothing about Dan Sartain. He was a dude – one of four dudes, all wearing matching tie-dye t-shirts and black jeans. The music was along the lines of the Sadies, except maybe if the Sadies were all really pissed about something. Two songs in and I decided that I liked Dan Sartain a fair bit.
Intermission. 45 long minutes. It was a wickedly hot day in a theatre full of sweaty people. The air conditioning wasn’t cutting it, so I grabbed us two bottles of stupidly overpriced rock concert water. It’s just like regular bottled water except it costs more than regular bottled water, which in turn costs more than tap water. It was still worth it.
Back at our seats, the guy ahead of us was on his cellphone and facing the crowd. “Okay, look down at the front. No, right at the very front. See us?”
He waved. Mika and I turned to see someone waving back from a balcony.
Cellphone guy taunted his friends while everyone around him (by which I mean us, mostly) laughed. It was probably mean of the guy, but he did offer to get together with his balcony people for a beer afterwards.
On stage, a crew of people in black suits (with red ties) and black hats (with red feathers) were setting up the stage.
Then the lights dimmed.
I have seen a lot of shows where the crowd has gone nuts, but I really don’t know if I’ve ever seen it quite to this degree. At a few points, I had to turn around and just look at the crowd. Everyone stood and screamed and clapped as the band took the stage, and the energy level in the room stayed up for the whole hour and a half. People danced, they sang along to everything, and clapped along where they could.
Colour scheme: Meg was in a white shirt and black pants. Jack was in red with red. The stage was red with steps up either side of a platform near the back. On at least once instance, I thought Jack was going to trip on his guitar cord and wipe out. Red and white strobe lights played during several songs. There were red and white guitars, red and white drums, and red and white amps. The amps had maple leaves on them.
I don’t have a setlist. I know they played Seven Nation Army and Hotel Yorba and Apple Blossom and We’re Going To Be Friends (yay!) and In The Cold Cold Night (yay!) and My Doorbell (YAY!) and The Union Forever (YAY!) and Jolene (the Dolly Parton song – and YAY!). There was an awful lot off the new album, which is no surprise. Off the top of my head (and with the tracklist in front of me), there was title track Icky Thump, You Don’t Know What Love Is, Catch Hell Blues, Effect and Cause, I’m Slowly Turning Into You, and A Martyr For My Love For You. They closed the encore with Boweevil and then paraded around the stage with a large Saskatchewan flag. Their whole set was about 90 minutes, including a five or ten-minute break before the encore.
Mika asked if I had a favourite White Stripes song, and if they played it. I don’t really have a favourite, but I wouldn’t have minded The Denial Twist, or Little Cream Soda if we’re picking stuff from the new album, and they didn’t play Fell In Love With A Girl, which was probably their breakout hit, but oh well. Oh well oh well oh well. I don’t want to sound like I’m nitpicking because I have no complaints about the setlist. I liked all of it, the songs that I’d heard a million times and the few that I had never heard before.
There were your usual wacky concert moments, but in my enthusiasm, I almost didn’t even think to add them to the review, so I’ll just shoehorn this paragraph right in here where it doesn’t really fit. There was the security guy who would calmly get people to step back if they approached the stage, and there was the surly security lady who would do the same thing but in a much more gruff manner, and who would tell off the calm security dude for being too… nice, I guess. There were the numerous times I heard Mika singing loudly to songs I didn’t realize she knew, only to look over and discover that she was silent, but the guy standing next to her was a real fan and just maybe he had a higher voice than his beard would indicate. There was the time Jack White altered the lyrics to a song to say Saskatoon – actually, he did that a few times – and Mika leaned over and said, faux-excitedly, “that’s where I live!” “Me too!” I replied, and it took a few seconds before I realized that no, I actually don’t.
On our way out, Mika saw Travis again and taunted him with a description of the closeness of our seats. His response, which I thought was entirely valid, was “you were HOW close? Well, fuck you, I’ve seen them TWICE.” He makes an excellent point. I mean, fuck me, I’d go see them twice. Anyway, while this was going on, I stopped and got myself a White Stripes t-shirt and a Dan Sartain CD (which I am listening to as I finish this up). I think everyone who was there bought the same shirt that I did. Walking to work this morning, two days and 250 kilometers removed from the show, I saw a guy wearing the same shirt. Everyone loves penguins, I guess. The White Stripes and penguins.
Mika asked where the show would rate in my all-time favourite concerts. I put it in the top 3, easily. And it makes a strong case for being number one, but I’d have to wait a bit before I can really rank the shows objectively. Maybe that would be a fun project someday. My favourite shows aren’t just great shows, and they aren’t just bands I really like. There’s something more, something extra, that really makes it a special event. Right before leaving the stage, the White Stripes said they’d come back – every band says that – and I’d certainly go see them again, but I don’t know if it would be the same. This show was a perfect storm of awesomeness:
- band I love
- band I love that I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to see in person
- band I love playing locally when I never ever thought they would
- relatively small venue
- sitting incredibly close
- not that I – or anyone – was sitting
- insanely amazingly enthusiastic crowd
- pleasant surprise opening act
- Canada Day, which is awesome, plus I had a day off both before and after the concert
Anyway, as if I haven’t beaten you over the head with it, this was a show for the ages. Best show of the year without question, and arguably the best show I’ve ever been to. Anything coming up will have a lot to live up to. But you never know – months ago, Mika and I were discussing the bands that we’d travel to go see, and the White Stripes were right atop my list. Queens of the Stone Age were on her list. Guess who’s coming to Saskatoon in August?
Apart from me, I mean.
Oh, and it turns out that the White Stripes did, in fact, do a free show earlier that afternoon. They showed up at a bowling alley – the one Josy used to work at, in fact – played a half-dozen songs, and left as quickly as they arrived. Word had spread about the show, just not very far. It certainly would have been cool to be there, among 200 people, watching the White Stripes play a few songs from the middle of a bowling lane. Apparently, in Winnipeg the next day, they played a free show on a bus. And in the Yukon, they learned how to throw spears. The internet is full of useless, ridiculously cool information.