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The White Stripes Come Home

By: Christopher HandysideThe White Stripes
Scottish Rite Cathedral,
Masonic Temple
April 15, 2003

The White Stripes kicked off a two-night homecoming stand in the heart of Detroit’s seedy, storied Cass Corridor. You’d think, with all the mainstream media exposure the band have brought upon Detroit’s tiny garage-rock scene, that no self-respecting hipster would’ve been caught within ten blocks of the place. But Detroiters don’t get too many chances to see the Stripes in action anymore, so pretty much every able-bodied music-scene participant turned up to pay his or her respects at this Tuesday-night show; the front steps of the nonsmoking Masonic Temple were clogged with local musicians, club promoters, and writers gulping last cigarettes before heading inside.

The second night’s show took place in the Masonic’s 5,000-seat big room, but this evening’s services were held in the Gothic confines of the Temple’s cozier Cathedral. The Stripes went on without fanfare–Jack prowled the stage in Spinal Tap-tight red-and-black pants, while Meg sported a black cast on her wrist. During the chaotic, imperfect, explosive show that followed, the duo walked a tightrope of rhythm, tempo, and volume, getting in each other’s faces, often literally.

The set list took in everything from “Black Math” (a head-banger’s ball from the Stripes’ new album, Elephant) to the living-room intimacy of the Meg-sung, Peggy Lee-meets-Nico swinger “In the Cold, Cold Night.” There was an apparently improvised ditty titled “Everywhere I Go I’m Me” and covers of obscure Sacramento, California, rockers Public Nuisance (“Small Faces”), Bob Dylan (“Isis”), Detroit neighbor Brendan Benson (“Good to Me”), and local legends the MC5 (“Looking at You”). Jack also worked in a shoutout to “Day-Twah” during his maniacal, hilarious, pidgin-French introduction to “The Hardest Button to Button.”

The set’s centerpiece, though, was a stunning, 12-minute evisceration of Son House’s “Death Letter.” It began with Jack writhing on the floor plucking Delta-bluesy, Led Zep slide riffs, stopped along the way for a mid-song run at the blues standard “Motherless Children,” and ended with Jack sharing Meg’s drum stool. They nudged and nuzzled like two children fighting over space in the family car before Jack planted a peck on Meg’s cheek and whacked the final note.

The encore included the recent single “Seven Nation Army” and the oldie “Screwdriver.” But it was Jack’s introduction to the live-Stripes staple “Boll Weevil”–a blues standard about looking for a home, appropriate anywhere but poignant here–that really punctuated the night. With a wide, theatrical grin and a shake of his sweat-drenched hair, Jack broke it to the audience gently: “We have to go now, children. There’s a curfew, you know. Maybe you can all come over for breakfast.”