So farewell, The White Stripes. Of course, Jack and Meg hadn’t been around since 2007, so we’d gotten used to being without them. However, a sense of loss is definitely being felt by those of us who watched them develop from cult artists into full-blown superstars.
Their breakthrough came in the summer of 2001, shortly after I started working at NME. After falling in love with ‘White Blood Cells’, me and my regular gig-going buddy Tom went to see them in Brighton in November that year, and quickly realised they were one of the best live bands either of us had ever seen. Over the next few years, we went to see them a hell of a lot.
We got to see Jack and Meg up really close when they were recording their debut performance on Later…With Jools Holland, the same month as the Brighton show. They were stuck in the middle of the floor, just the two of them, a guitar, a drumkit and a couple of amps, while opposite them Jamiroquai took up virtually half the room with their shitload of bandmembers, backing singers and guests. The look on Jay Kay’s face when Jack and Meg belted out ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ was priceless.
The next one that sticks out is their debut performance at Glastonbury in 2002. This was a strange year – it didn’t rain, but it was quite windy and dreary and the bill was rubbish. The White Stripes performed on an early Saturday evening to a crowd anxious to see something to get the weekend started – and Jack and Meg certainly did that with a raw, coruscating performance which trashed the cynics’ view that ‘projecting’ on big stages would a problem for the duo.
The brace of shows at London’s Brixton Academy in April 2003, shortly after the release of ‘Elephant’ were memorable for a couple of reasons – the gigs themselves saw the band on top of their game, at a time when their commercial stock was at its highest. And we got to hear ‘Seven Nation Army’ live for the first time.
Then, after the second show, Jack White decided he wanted to have some fun, and followed a group of us (including future NME editor Krissi Murison, who gave him a lift) to an indie club in central London. Once there he bought us drinks, chatted to amazed fans and gyrated to Justin Timberlake’s ‘Like I Love You’ on the dancefloor. It was beyond surreal.
Reading And Leeds 2004 saw the band headline UK festivals for the first time. And at Reading, the effect they could have on people became even more obvious when viewing them on the big screens. Every time we got a close-up of Meg, one of my friends, who was with his girlfriend, made his hugely positive, E-assisted views on her looks loudly known, much to the amusement of the crowd gathered round us.
Then there was their Glastonbury headline show in 2005 – after a day of torrential rain, it felt somehow appropriate that the band should premiere material from the sinister ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ album. In the gloom, Jack said little, apart from commenting “We’re sorry about the rain” while using a strange voice effect that made him sound like a Dalek. It was weirdly wonderful.
The same year, at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, Jack introduced himself and Meg as “Three Quid and Penny Farthing”. It was also pointed out by a friend of mine that night how quiet the crowd was during songs, such was the intensity of the band’s performance. It wasn’t the time or place for idle chitchat.
I also met Meg for the first time that night, and she was lovely, if a little shy (one thing which still bugs me is that I interviewed Jack many times, but never got to quiz The White Stripes together). Finally, there was what will now go down in history as The White Stripes’ last ever London show, at the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park – their last ever UK show taking place in Leeds a day later.
It wasn’t the greatest show I’ve seen from them – in fact, it may well have been the worst. But of course, now it’s historically significant. And their worst was still far better than a lot of other artists’ best. The White Stripes were amazing. And following their glorious path over the last decade has been mind-blowing.