The White Stripes. Wolverhampton Civic Hall 07/04/2003
By Dave Copson
It’s quite a rarity for a band to start their world tour with a show at the Civic. Even more rare for that band to also be number 1 in the album charts at the time and have a song of theirs on constant play all across radio and music tv stations. That’s why the White Stripes at the Civic was so special. The album Elephant hit number 1 on that Monday, Seven Nation Army had full on conquered MTV and every alternative (and quite a lot of mainstream) radio stations and the buzz around the those two brother-sister/ex-husband and wife humans was at fever pitch level.
Monday 7th April 2003 at Wolverhampton Civic was the first show they played after releasing Elephant the Monday before. The album had rocketed straight to the top of the charts and suddenly, EVERYONE knew who the White Stripes were. They’d gone from being cult heroes, to a successful popular band in their genre, to finally a globe conquering mega force who’d just released one of the best albums of recent times. Why they chose Wolverhampton to start their world tour we’ll never know. But who cares, it was great for us wasn’t it?
I’m never normally one to describe things in a cheesy sounding way, but I have no other way of doing so. The atmosphere outside and then in the Civic before that show was absolutely ELECTRIC. It felt like something big was happening, and here it was happening on our doorstep. Professional reviews still exist online of the show itself – so I’m going to leave it to people who are much better with the English language to provide you with the description of the set the White Stripes played. How the now legendary Jack White guitar sound absolutely shook the entire Civic to the core, how – except for Fell in Love with a Girl – every single massive White Stripes track was played, and how the crowd’s reaction to their set was of complete hysteria.
This is the thing. The tickets went on sale for that gig, fans of the band bought them, then watched in the few months on the run up to the show as the White Stripes absolutely exploded to festival headliner status. They could have easily called off those shows on the tour and booked up larger venues. But they didn’t. Those were the gigs they’d booked, they were going to play them and the first show after releasing their magnum opus album the week before was Wolverhampton Civic. It was Hendrix at Monterey Pop, it was Nirvana at Reading Festival ‘91. Jack and Meg White needed to prove that they were worth the hype, and here they were in Wolverhampton on the first stop off point of their mission.
It felt in the venue like you’d scored exclusive V.I.P tickets to watch a globe conquering band playing a small show. The Civic was perfect for them. The way it looks and sounds along with the size of the venue fitted the White Stripes spot on. Even if you’d never heard of the band and didn’t even know what was happening at the Civic, you would have sensed that something massive was occurring in the centre of Wolves on that evening. It felt like – in terms of popular music of an indie/alternative style – the entire world had its eyes on that show. The music press had been hyping the start of the tour worldwide, I’d never felt in my 17 years of life at that point a buzz in the air like that in Wolverhampton, and I’m yet to have felt it since. I’m not usually one to get mega excited at a gig but there was no way of not being, because the entire crowd was. Waiting for them to walk out on the stage felt like you were about to go on the best rollercoaster at a good theme park; even if you don’t like rollercoasters or theme parks you would still feel that rush as you start moving knowing fully well that you’re in for some madness. So you might as well just accept that that’s the way it is and join in with everyone.
Of course, it was just a good gig. That’s all it was. But it was so much more as well. Seeing a band at the absolute peak of their career with a number 1 album walking out on stage to prove to everyone that they’re really worth all the hysteria that surrounds them was a class experience. They played as if no one had heard them or knew anything about them, and went out to make a huge statement showing the world who the Whites Stripes were. If you didn’t already play in a band you left that gig wanting to play in one. Or if you did play in a band you left itching to get to band practice and write some songs. Jack and Meg White proving that you don’t have to be technical master musicians to be a great musicians and a make great band. Just go for it and make some music, or any form of art, or anything that’s good that has a positive effect on others. Those type of gigs are the best gigs of all; the ones that inspire you.
Once again, it was just a good gig. But it was the sort of thing you can imagine telling the youngsters about when you’re old; the night when – if you were a fan of that type of music – Wolverhampton felt like the centre of the universe.