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The White Stripes “Let’s Have A Ball … And A Biscuit Sugar” ( No Label CD )

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Let’s Have A Ball  … And A Biscuit Sugar

Rosklide, Denmark, Roskilde Festival June 30, 2002 ; Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground ; I Think I Smell A Rat ; When I hear My Name ; Isis (Dylan) ; Hotel Yorba ; Jimmy The Exploder ; Farmer John ; Ball And Biscuit ; Good To Me ; Lord, Send Me An Angel ; Apple Blossom ; You’re Pretty Good Looking ( For a Girl ) ; Hello Operator ; Stop Breaking Down ; We’re Going To Be Friends ; Fell In Love With A Girl ; Cannon ; Look Me Over Closely ; Little Room ; The Union Forever ; Screwdriver ; Let’s Build A Home / Going Back To Memphis

BBC Radio 1, John Peel Show, Suffolk, UK November 8, 2001 ; Lord send me An Angel / Dead Leaves & The Dirty Ground ; Look Me Over Closely ; Looking At You / St. James Infirmary Blues ; Apple Blossom ; Rated X. 

2002 was a pivotal year for the White Stripes – much media attention for them & their American stable mates The Strokes. 2002 was also the year the band elevated to a bigger stage & a good few more festival dates. Only their 33rd European engagement since forming 5 years previously & the second year they’d hit outside of the America or the Far East.  Presented on this disk is an excellent FM recording of the band in their prime although it sounds like it has been cut sometimes to allow for extracting the stations idents & any dead time tuning instruments.

Jack has always stated that it’s the bands job to make the audience work as much as the band & if they’re not sweating a short while in to the concert then it’s time to turn tact & throw something else in to the mix. Jack, the showman has always played an exemplary card by forcing boundaries upon himself taking a twist to the standard template of his own songs & working hard to play them in different tempos, on different instruments, with different solos mixing the groups original tracks with covers of songs that he picks from the back of his mind. Indeed on this years tour they’re already pulled out The Rolling Stones “She Comes In Colours”, Son House’s “Death Letter”, Bob Dylans “It’s Alright, Ma ( I’m Only Bleeding ) & “Jack The Ripper” by Screaming Lord Sutch. Tonight’s show is an electric & eclectic tour de force beginning with the White Blood Cells opener “Dead Leaves & The Dirty Ground”.

It begins with a fast paced battle between Meg & Jack accumulating in the filthy riff that runs through the track. Jack, ever the vocalist, never quite the singer, screams it’s arrival & Meg crashes straight in to the drum part. It’s obvious the audience are aware of the band already – despite their next album “Elephant” being the one that will really break the band in Europe – by clapping along in time to the drums. Once the song finishes Jack dedicates the days set to Danish furniture designer Arne Jacobsen – one of Jack’s heros & famed for his simple & effective designs. Next in to the set springs “I Think I Smell A Rat” Jack frequently uses this riff as a tease throughout his sets ( witness Glastonbury 2007 as he would use this to spin around many of his other songs ).

This is Jack at his theatrical best & plys out the song as a punishment to fake hipster kids & flakes. Another song regarding disaffection follows in the form of “When I Hear my name” the protagonist stating his fear at being singled out in the crowd & being placed out of his context. This is a great song to warm up the set as it alternates between slow burning communicator & fast paced clarion call to arms. This has been factored as a huge sing along in later years with the crown joining in with the extra vocalising.

Next we’re thrown a curve – a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Isis” from the 1976 Desire album. The original, for anyone unfamiliar with Dylan is a heavy piano & violin lead saga relating the story of a man who takes a journey to make his fortune after feeling disparaged by his wife, he recalls the oddball task he’s taken to by a stranger in a bar by digging around for treasures in tombs all the while thinking about his muse & how he could return after he’s completed his search for wealth. The track here is played out semi – acapella with Jacks raucous guitar playing stop – starting so the ear doesn’t have to strain to follow the story. Only few bands might take on singing a song with the richness & gestalt of Isis but the White Stripes carry it off perfectly. 

The band follow this with their first single proper, the much heralded “Hotel Yorba” named after a guest house in the bands home town of Detroit. A playful, country tinged stomp which finds both Jack & Meg taking vocal duties at the chorus. It takes a few seconds of thought for the band to strike in to a monolithic version of one of the first albums tracks “Jimmy The Exploder” which is punched through at break neck speed almost like a death metal surf track. Jack works his larynx for this track, forcefully pushing out the faux monkey noises in the track. Without a breath the band fall effortlessly in to a brief cover of the Premiers “Farmer John”. This is played like Neil Young has tackled the track previously but this is faster again & is a great prelude to the next track. Unveiling an unreleased song that, since the band became bigger & the threat of their music being pirated or bootlegged becomes more prevalent the band are less prone to do.

“Ball & Biscuit” from the Bands next album “Elephant” harks back to what Jack had forsaken on “White Blood Cells” – he’d forbidden himself from using solos or elongated tracks & decoded to box himself in to using only spartan methods of recording. Coming back from that “Ball & Biscuit” is a souped up, all consuming behemoth of a track full of screaming, statacco guitar solos & rock hard riffing all propelled by Meg’s ever steady drumming. Since it’s live outting, it has taken on many different forms & has now transformed itself in to a different beast altogether. 

The band then pay homage to a musical friend – Detroit’s Brendon Benson – & cover a track from his ‘Lapalco’ album. As ever the original is linguine compared to Jacks frenetic riffing but “Good To Me” was considered so good a match that the Stripes decided to add it to their first single from Elephant – the modern, sing along classic ‘Seven Nation Army’. After this a brief introduction for the band – “So now we’d like to introduce ourselves. my name is Jack White & this is my big sister Meg on the drums”. The fable was, since the early days that the band were brother & sister. since their launch to fame journalists scrambled to find the truth to this theory turning up a marriage certificate not long after their assent although the sibling story is one that Jack still persists with up keeping to this day.

Next is a cover of the Blind Willie McTell song “Lord, Send me An Angel” with the lyrics amended to suit Jack’s story. Jack then jumps from guitar to organ & then back again for the “De Stijl” album track “Apple Blossom”. On the album it’s played out acoustically accompanied by piano & a slick guitar overdub but here it’s a simple piano, guitar & drums affair increasing in tempo after the first chorus. Sticking with “De Stijl” the band career straight in to the albums opener “You’re Pretty Good Looking ( For A Girl )” although played at a much faster pace.

The indexing on the disk goes slightly awry with 35 seconds of “You’re Pretty Good Looking’s ..” time given over to “Hello Operator” which picks up at the first clicking stick “solo” rendering “Hello .. ” a little shorter than it’s usual running time. The longest song of the set next Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breakin’ Down” as also covered by such luminaries as The Rolling Stones in Which Jack really breaks out the fury & delivers a majestic & invigorating solo that practically peels the paint from his guitar, lasting the best part of the length of the song before crashing to a brief & bruising end.

Jack then takes up the acoustic guitar for the evergreen favorite that the crowd know straight from the first note & clap along consistently through out. “We Are Going To be Friends is one of the sweetest songs in the White Stripes canon referencing the joy of childhood friends & the delicacy of relationships. The peace of the past song is shattered with the sturm und drang of a hyper speed “Fell In Love With A Girl” one of the many White Stripes songs to reference Jack’s fondness for the red haired woman splintering along with the urgency of new found & head spinning love. It smacks straight in to a brief “Cannon” & then slap bang in to a cover of “Look Me Over Closely” Marlene Dietrich’s signature tune. It runs along side their cover of Dolly Partons “Jolene” where Jack sings a song from the view point of the female.

This in turn has Jack dropping the guitar histronics to feature his voice twinned with Meg’s drumming for the short sharp shock of “Little Room” which segues instantly in to Jack’s anti – establishment / anti love anthem “The Union Forever” which again features an acapella break in the middle only to fold into another wild solo. “Screwdriver” is preceded by Jack’s only other spoken thanks to the crowd in to which they lay in to he bones of the song. this song usually fuels the simpatico relationship between ‘Brother & Sister’ as Jack will sometimes wait for Meg’s response to his call while Mag has to double guess when he’ll chop out his call, to watch it is fascinating stuff & pearlises the unit as a whole.

The set finishes with a whirlwind “Let’s Build A Home” from ‘De Stijl’ which blends in to a raucous cover of “Going Back To Memphis” by ex – Animal Eric Buron & is topped of with yet more soloing as a parting shot to the crown. To give Jack his due at this speed it would take only the specialist of talents to keep up with out stumbling over their words but he manages it perfectly.

The set finished the disk is filled with some of the Peel Sessions recorded for BBC Radio 1 at revered British disk jockey’s home at Peel Acres – there are very few DJs in the UK that could braodcast from home but so much was John’s draw he could pretty much get away with anything – the year previously. These sessions have been routinely bootlegged before – many times on vinyl & on the silver disk “Go Faster” ( TWS 01 ) but these are some of the best & because, again, they’re from an FM broadcast the sound quality is superb.

“Lord, Send me An Angel” is a slightly more laid back affair than Denmark’s rendition but obviously retains the same Jack referencing lyrics as previous. “Dead Leaves & The Dirty Ground” is more tempered too & closer to the CV although the drumming is brighter. “Look Me Over Closely” is dedicated to a listener & played after a request from Mr. Peel for “Something I haven’t heard before .. “. it includes more theatricalitys from Jack with his over enunciated vocal stylings.  

“Looking At You / St. James Infirmary Blues” is a cover of the MC5 track tacked on to the folksong. Again “Looking At You” is played at a lightning speed with a Krameresque solo that gives way to a tempo gauging stomp in to “St. James .. “. “Apple Blossom” is almost the same as Denmark but Jack’s guitar rings a little more than squeals & is punctuated by a punkish, crunchy riff. “Rated X” is a cover of the Loretta Lynn song with vocal duties given to both Jack & Meg. It’s a fun way to round up the album & further cements the bands curious image. 

The Artwork is very aesthetically pleasing with a 4 page slip sleeve with Jack at the festival in full flourish & the back cover showing a full band shot at the festival too with the text coloured in Red & White to suit the bands tastes. The only troubles being that the date of the Denmark show is listed as July & not June & the CD features no artwork at all leaving you to work out exactly which side round the CD goes in! 

The White Stripes are always in flux & no two shows are routinely the same. Pretty much each & every show should be picked up but with qualities differing wildly then this solid sounding broadcast should be at the top of your hit list.

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The White Stripes "Let's Have A Ball ... And A Biscuit Sugar" ( No Label CD ), 2.5 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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