Tuesday, July 24, 2007

White Stripes Maritimes Extravanganza

It's been work, work, work since I got back from holidays. And then what little free time I had was completely usurped by Harry Potter this weekend. But I guess I should be getting back to this blog. If you're not a White Stripes fan, you're going to have to bear with me just a little longer. Non-White Stripes posts coming up next week after I go to the Calgary Folk Fest.

When the White Stripes full Canadian tour was announced back in April, plans were immediately underfoot to see them as much as possible. The hometown Edmonton show was a given, but how many shows could I possibly weasel out of my bank account? It was decided early on that the best plan would be to do the Maritimes swing. Four shows within reasonable distances, 3 of which are within distances actually closer than Edmonton is to Calgary which are in THE SAME PROVINCE! The ultimate coup was the Glace Bay show in the historic 750-seat Savoy Theatre, which would coincide with the White Stripes' 10th anniversary to the exact date. With a little luck and sheer force of will, we obtained 4th row tix to the key show and general admission tickets to the other 3. The Maritimes roadtrip was a go!

I don't have the effort to fully recount the first three stops of the trip in Moncton, Charlottetown, and Halifax, but needless to say the shows were a blast and the band seemed to be gaining steam going into the homestretch of the Canadian leg of the tour. By this point, their afternoon secret shows were becoming the stuff of legend and the media coverage was inevitably getting heavier. Bowling alley in Saskatoon, public transit in Winnipeg, YMCA in Toronto, where will those wacky White Stripes turn up next? The Moncton secret show seemed to have been scuttled, one of the very few if only stops on the tour with no secret show. Charlottetown revived all the excitement. I practically walked into Jack White when we went to pick up our tickets at the Civic Centre. I let out a wimpy wave and supposedly got a smile back, but I was in utter shock and kinda blanked out. About an hour later we were gathered at Peake's wharf based on a rumour (later substantiated by an official post on the WS forums). In the distance some guitar-like noises were starting to emanate from the water. Then a boat rounded the bend and there were Jack & Meg rocking out on Catfish Blues. The boat neared the harbour and shifted back and forth for about 5 or so songs before fading into the distance as mysteriously as they had appeared with the crowd cheering in appreciation. Classic. Interesting sidenote: Dan Sartain's drummer was staying at our hostel in Charlottetown. We're not quite sure why that was, but it made for some funny jokes. Poor Ringo.

The Halifax concert was another highlight. Earlier in the day we had been among the mob that chased Jack & Meg Hard Day's Night-style 'round the Halifax Citadel, which was funny but ultimately fruitless (we later missed an opportunity to catch the actual secret show in a local poolhall). At the evening show, Jack was decked out in a kilt and Meg was wearing a balmoral. They proceeded to blow us away. The kicker at the end of the night was Jack threw his pick into the crowd. Long story short, I found it on the ground!

The next morning we set off for Glace Bay. My friend got a speeding ticket on the way up past Antigonish. Around $300, this made an expensive trip even steeper, yikes! As mentioned earlier, the show in Glace Bay was bound to be a show-stopper despite the band playing down the significance of this show saying it was a coincidence that it was their 10th anniversary as a band to this date. There was never any doubt it'd be something special. Prior to the whole tour, Jack had mentioned he may have some roots in Nova Scotia. What started as a rumour turned into truth as a distant relative traced Jack's lineage through his grandparents (his real last name is Gillis) and confirmed that Jack was in fact related to fiddling legend Buddy MacMaster (3rd cousin, once removed); Buddy's niece and fellow Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster (4th cousin); and fiddling wildman Ashley MacIsaac (double 4th cousin). Early in the tour, it was announced that Ashley MacIsaac would be one of the opening acts for the show. Ashley even has his own Live at the Savoy album recorded in that same theatre. Perhaps most shocking of all (to me anyway), was the revelation that Jack White is also related to ex-NHLer Al MacInnis (3rd cousin), owner of one of the hardest slapshots in NHL history. Last month it was announced that Al MacInnis would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside Mark Messier, Ron Francis, and Scott Stevens. In more fun with family trees, Natalie MacMaster is married to lead fiddler of the Leahy musical family, Donnell. I'm a big fan of Leahy, so that was a neat revelation too. If you can decipher all that, here's some related tracks (pun not really intended):

Natalie MacMaster - Second Figure [The Two Mile Bridge/The Champion Jig/Little Jack's Jig/Jackson's Fancy]
Leahy - DA
Leahy - Czardas
Ashley MacIsaac - Devil in the Kitchen

The Hextalls - I'd Take an Al MacInnis Slapshot to the Balls For You
Al MacInnis' slapshot is so legendary, there's even a song about one man's ultimate sacrifice in the name of love. When the White Stripes were playing earlier in the tour in Calgary, Jack White reportedly said, "I want to send a shout-out to my cousin Al MacInnis. This is where it all happened, right?" They were, of course, performing at the Saddledome, where Al MacInnis manned the backend for 10+ years leading the Flames to their only Stanley Cup in 1989 (Al won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP). I still can't get over this random connection.

We reached Glace Bay and found out there would be no secret show that day, which was both disappointing but a relief. We did a little bowling in a local lane candlepin-style, which was new to all of us, and walked down to the shore. On the whole there's not a heckuva lot to do in Glace Bay, quite frankly. Later we were walking by the Savoy Theatre when the strains of Prickly Thorn But Sweetly Worn (a new track from Icky Thump that hadn't been played live prior to this date) were heard from the backdoor. I rapidly crossed the street and started walking down the alley as fans out front realized at the same time that there was a soundcheck going on. It was hilarious as we crouched next to the garbage in the alley and strained to peer through the door, which was guarded by a friendly Savoy Theatre worker. After a couple minutes someone on stage finally turned and shouted "Who left that door open!" and we all scurried off. But not before snapping this shot of Jack and one of his cousins on the bagpipes (Angus, I think?).

And now the show itself... I feel like I can barely talk about it since I can't do it any justice. You just had to be there. This was the first time in a long time I didn't bring my camera in to a concert. Even though I probably could have snuck it in, I was determined this time to just soak it all in without distractions (I recommend this, it's very liberating). This whole show was being filmed for a future DVD, and knowing this made this choice easier. Our seats were in the 4th row, but right against the wall. My view in particular was hampered by the speakers and I was kinda grumbling during Dan Sartain, but luckily early into the White Stripes set we had shuffled into the aisle with no hassle from security. At the end of Ashley MacIsaac's set, he invited Buddy MacMaster to the stage. This was a genuine treat and everyone in the theatre knew it was special. As he and Buddy fiddled, Ashley even moved to the front of the stage for a little stepdancing as everyone clapped and stomped along.

Ashley MacIsaac - Sleepy Maggie
Probably his biggest hit. I remember this getting radio play back in the day. Haunting Gaelic vocals by Mary Jane Lamond.

My friends and I were among one of the lucky rows to receive champagne served by the White Stripes immaculately dressed roadies. This was during the break between Ashley MacIsaac and The White Stripes, so I wasn't sure if we were supposed to drink it right away or save it for a special 10th anniversary toast. I ended up saving it and toasting the first song, although it was apparent there was no elaborate plan except to drink up! The crowd was filled with Jack's east coast relatives. His mother was there, brothers, sisters, and so many cousins. One of Jack's brothers who bears a striking resemblance could be seen mingling with fans and family alike. It was just a big family brouhaha and we were a part of it. In our row was Jack's 91-year old great-aunt who somehow managed to endure the whole rockin' show. I felt bad for her since it was so loud and I saw her cover her eyes during the strobe lights. She did stand up for Prickly Thorn, which was heartlifting. An average White Stripes concert is roughly an hour and a half including encore. Here, Jack & Meg just unleashed nearly 2.5 hours on us. I can't even think of any highlights since the whole show was one monster highlight. Throughout the show we had to constantly jump out of the way of the Black Hat roadies running in and out of the stage door with cameras and film. I can't wait to see the DVD and maybe someday you'll catch me on it wearing my homemade Canadian tour shirt. It was the be all and end all of White Stripes concerts (at least for me). I simply can't imagine topping that experience. Maybe in another 10 years?

If you managed to read all that or even if you didn't, here are some cover songs. "Finally!" you say.

Whirlwind Heat - You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl) [originally by the White Stripes]
The Raconteurs - The Seeker (Feat. Pete Townshend) [originally by The Who]
Jack Johnson - We're Going To Be Friends [originally by the White Stripes]
Infadels - Steady as She Goes [originally by the Raconteurs]
DJ Zebra - Icky Thump (Whole Lotta Funk remix) [White Stripes vs. Led Zeppelin]

I'm also selling a couple things from the shows on eBay. A limited edition Rob Jones concert poster from the Glace Bay show, which I'm actually selling for my friend to help recover the cost of that pesky speeding ticket. It's so collectible and highly sought after that someone just bought one on eBay recently for nearly $700! Yikes, that would cover the speeding ticket and our concert tickets! I'm also selling 1 of 100 hand-made White Stripes kilt pins they were selling at the Halifax and Glace Bay shows. The trip cost an arm and leg, so bid away! Just kidding, it was an unforgettable and completely priceless experience. And seeing how my Ben Folds cruise was unceremoniously cancelled for next year, my wallet can take the hit.


Anonymous said...

Great blog item. Nova Scotia cops don't play - I was pre-warned about the speed traps there. Too bad.

Have you got any outside crowd shots from the Savoy. Looking for a shot of my daughter and I at the foot of the stairs - about 10 feet from the "drop our pants" poster guys.


Fongolia said...

Regrettably, I took practically no photos at the venue... I'm not sure why. Just caught up in the pre-show buzz I guess, then I stashed the camera in the car so I wouldn't be tempted to snap shots during the show.

Anonymous said...

hey do you guys have an extra print to sell?? pls ;__;

Fongolia said...

Um, I'm afraid you're about 8 months too late for the extra print we already sold. Sorry!

Kenzie Gunn said...

Oh man I'm jealous. I'm from Cape Breton, and am told it wouldn't be hard to find some relation to Jack as well. Buuut I couldn't get tickets to the show, as it sold out way too quick. Awesome write up on it, I'm glad big fans got to go. I did make it very closr to the stage for the Halifax show and it was amazing. I knew the guy who played bagpipes at the Glace Bay show from highschool and I hate him more than ever now.