The White Stripes
21st Century Appearances: 2004 Main Stage Headliner, 2003 Main Stage (Cancelled), 2002 Main Stage
The Defining Reading Moment: “Seven Nation Army”, it had to be, closing a headline set and completing an amazing year that saw The White Stripes become the world’s biggest band.
When it comes to the defining 21st century band you would be hard pressed to top Detroit’s The White Stripes. Having two critically acclaimed albums beforehand, the duo came into the spotlight off the back of third album, White Blood Cells. From then on, they never looked back, producing a plethora of hits, alongside monster albums: Elephant, Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump, with all three albums winning the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. Alongside these achievements, they became somewhat of a brief permanent fixture on the Reading line up, going from fifth from top in 2002, to headliners in 2004, alongside a cancelled appearance in 2003.
Back in 2002, they were riding alongside the “garage rock revival” era, along with The Strokes, The Vines and The Hives. Their debut Reading performance was an energetic, afternoon sunshine gig, which made for compulsive viewing, where they paid homage to artists as diverse as Dolly Parton, The Gun Club, Son House, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly, along with their own old-fashioned but contemporary Blues rock numbers, including “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, “I Think I Smell A Rat” and “Hotel Yorba.” It was a refreshing and interesting start to their Reading careers.
They were due to perform again in 2003 subbing to Blur, but Jack White’s fractured left hand forced them to cancel all tour dates, which saw the duo replaced by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on the line up. Nevertheless, they were back again in 2004, this time as headliners.
Of course, by 2004 they had leapt from indie darlings to global superstars, thanks to the mammoth success of fourth album, Elephant. The constant touring in support of their new found fame, helped them to cope with headlining to upwards of 80,000 people. However, Jack White‘s vocals seemed to feel the tired strain of touring, while Meg White was busy supporting an Amy Winehouse-style beehive. That didn’t seem to deter their performance though, blasting through classics “Fell In Love With A Girl”, “We Are Going To Be Friends” and “Hotel Yorba”, along with new hits such as “Ball and Biscuit“ and “The Hardest Button to Button”. The covers were also back: Dolly Parton’s heartbreaking “Jolene” (Jack White is possibly the only male vocalist who can getting away with singing it), Dusty Springfield’s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself“, Son House’s “Dead Letter,” Public Nuisance’s “Small Faces” and “Maps” from Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Their set ended on their signature song, “Seven Nation Army,” which the crowd transformed into a football terrace anthem, chanting over the opening chords. Little did the band or the audience know, that would be The White Stripes’ final calling point at Reading Festival.
Having called it quits in February 2011, it brought an end to a band who were one of Reading’s most popular acts over the past decade. Given they pretty much conquered everything a band possibly could, there wasn’t really much else for them to achieve. However, they are definitely a band that I will continue to punch myself over for missing the chance to see live. Siobhan Gallagher