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Credit: Masao Nakagami

What did The White Stripes play at their first ever gigs?

In 1997, Jack and Meg White were just one of many struggling, young and married couples on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan. Jack was a part-time musician who worked as an upholsterer, while Meg was a bartender with no experience in music. They were both only 22 years old.

On a whim, Meg decided to start pounding away on Jack’s drums one day. The result was brutish, unpretentious, and completely refreshing for Jack, who decided to join in on guitar. After mulling over a few ideas, the duo decided to form a new band focused on minimalist blues-based garage punk stylized after one of Jack’s favourite acts, The Flat Duo Jets. Taking their own surname, The White Stripes were officially born.

By August of that year, the two decided they were ready to perform live. For the band’s first official gig, the White’s turned to The Gold Dollar, a ramshackle bar where Jack had previously played with band’s like The Go and Goober and the Peas.

August 14th was an open mic night, the perfect setting for a new band with no history or clout. Jack, self-facing, introduces himself and Meg to the audience by thanking them and promising to “bore you for two or three songs”. The result is anything but: the band’s signature blend of Meg’s simple pounding drums, Jack’s harried howl, and plenty of distorted blues riffage show a group whose sound is already fully formed.

A few years ago, Jack’s Third Man Records found a fairly high-quality recording of the three-song gig and published it as The White Stripes’ The First Show: Live On Bastille Day. Roaring to life with a fatalistic take on Cab Calloway’s ‘St. James Infirmary’, the duo burst through their first original, ‘Jimmy the Exploder’, and their own interpretation of the doo-wop classic ‘Love Potion #9’.

The very next day, the band were invited back for a proper set. The three songs played the previous night were once again trotted out, but the eleven-song setlist for August 15th shows the ever-growing creativity produced by the relatively new group. Tracks that would be the cornerstones of the early White Stripes canon, including the band’s second-ever single ‘Lafayette Blues’ and the blistering riff-rocker ‘Screwdriver’ that would appear on the band’s self-titled 1999 debut LP, are featured, as are songs that would appear on later album’s like De Stijl‘s ‘Why Can’t You Be Nicer to Me?’ and White Blood Cells ‘I Can Learn’.

The band also pay tribute to hometown Detroit heroes The Stooges by covering ‘T.V. Eye’ from the band’s legendary 1970 album ‘Fun House’. All told, the band put their own raw power on full display, even at their earliest stages. The band, and the venues, would get bigger from here, but their sound never wavered from where they started: loud, stomping blues-rock that leaves excess and flash at the door.

The White Stripes first show, August 14th, 1997 setlist:

  1. ‘St. James Infirmary’ (Traditional cover)
  2. ‘Jimmy the Exploder’
  3. ‘Love Potion #9’ (The Clovers cover)

The White Stripes second show August 15th, 1997 setlist:

  1. ‘St. James Infirmary’ (Traditional cover)
  2. ‘Jimmy the Exploder’
  3. ‘Red Bowling Ball Ruth’
  4. ‘I Can Learn’
  5. ‘Love Potion #9’ (The Clovers cover)
  6. ‘Why Can’t You Be Nicer to Me?’
  7. ‘Lafayette Blues’
  8. ‘Jumble, Jumble’
  9. ‘T.V. Eye’ (The Stooges cover)
  10. ‘Little People’
  11. ‘Screwdriver’

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