In 2009, The White Stripes weren’t technically broken up. They were only two years removed from the release of their sixth album Icky Thump and were still one of the most reliable big-name rock bands in the world. But after a brief trek around Canada and the United States to promote the album, Meg White began struggling with anxiety and the duo decided to cancel their planned tour of the UK.
It had seemed like a temporary hiatus, but according to band archivist Ben Blackwell, Meg indicated at the final American tour stop in Southaven, Mississippi, that it would be the band’s final performance. Just as she had said, that show at the Snowden Grove Amphitheatre on July 31st, 2007, would be the final show that The White Stripes would ever play.
But it wasn’t the last time the duo shared a stage and sang together. Following the cancelled dates and the band’s hiatus, Jack White formed The Dead Weather as his second side project after The Raconteurs. Known to stay busy, Jack toured and recorded with The Dead Weather before getting a call from a familiar voice in 2009: late-night comedy host Conan O’Brien.
O’Brien was about to embark on his ill-fated transition to host The Tonight Show, taking the reigns from former host Jay Leno. On February 20th, O’Brien was set to film his final episode as host of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and his first choice for the final musical guest was The White Stripes.
Conan and the Whites had a prior history, including appearing on the show as musical guests and even having O’Brien’s studio be the setting for the video of ‘The Denial Twist’. If it were up to them, Jack and Meg White likely would never have performed live together again. But for someone like O’Brien, who had given them a platform and continued to have them back as a fan, the Whites decided to get on stage one last time.
“When you do your last show after 16 years, you’re like a guy who’s going to be executed: you can ask for anything you want for the final meal,” O’Brien recalled. “So I just asked for the moon, and I said ‘I would love it if Jack and Meg came on the show and performed ‘We’re Going to Be Friends’. And I wasn’t sure they would do it, or if they could do it, but you just ask for the moon, and yes, they said they would do it.”
O’Brien also recalled the decision to have Meg White play guitar on the song since the studio version features no drums. Conan explained that Jack was showing her the chords only an hour before they were set to start filming, sending O’Brien into a nervous statement of mind. Luckily, the White’s were able to pull it off, and even gifted O’Brien a Gretsch Penguin guitar as a gift that still hangs in his office to this day.
The White Stripes were ostensibly working on their seventh studio album at the time, but when two years went by without a word, Jack officially announced that the band were splitting up in February of 2011, almost exactly two years after their final live appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
Watch The White Stripes perform ‘We’re Going to Be Friends’ and listen to Conan O’Brien recall the final episode down below.