The White Stripes, Detroit’s intentionally lo-fi duo hit the national mainstream with the punk(ish) “Fell in Love with a Girl” back in 2001 and ten successful years later, they joined the ranks of the defunct, going their separate ways professionally, just as they did romantically years before (no they aren’t brother and sister). In light of their parting of the ways, a new album may be unexpected, but then again, only actual fans (and music critics) are able to obtain this album at all.
Released through Jack White’s Third Man Records members only service known as “The Vault”, this sprawling 27 track live album is only available to Vault members as a vinyl double album by mail. The album itself is impressive, loud and raw with that same deceptive complexity we’ve come to expect from this two-person band. Released to coincide with the tenth anniversary of their hugely successful album Elephant, Nine Miles from the White City was recorded at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom during the tour supporting that album.
“Fell in Love with a Girl” is conspicuously absent from the track listing and whether this was omitted from the mix or the band simply didn’t play it out of burnout is unknown. However, many of the White Stripes’ most popular songs and fan favorites are found on this third live album and some of the renditions here rival the original studio recordings. “Seven Nation Army” sounds great live and, again, sounds like a “full band”, as opposed to one singer/ guitarist and one drummer. “Hotel Yorba” is distorted and sounds like something one might hear on AM Country radio while traveling through the hills. “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground” is heavy and bluesy with just the right amount of distortion and crowd screaming to set this one apart from its studio version. “Candy Cane Children” is delightfully in-your-face with Jack White’s barking his “Think Again Man!” at the cheering audience.
Meg White sings on “In the Cold Cold Night” and proves that she sounds as good and as haunting live as she does in the studio. The White Stripes supplement their own work with a few cover tunes from the likes of Tommy Johnson, Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson, Captain Beefheart, and Henry & June.
I continue to stress how they sound live versus in the studio and that is not always a great thing. True the White Stripes are precise and work toward perfection on each song, but many fans seek out live albums based on the unique additions, medleys and alternate takes on at least some of the songs. While “Screwdriver” is broken up between a “tease” and a “reprise” (read: full) version with “Ball and Biscuit” in the middle and Jack White does have the occasional fun and funny moment with the audience (especially on “We are Going to be Friends”), there isn’t a lot here to warrant the live treatment aside from the fact that White Stripes fans will certainly want it. You won’t find anything like Kiss’ expanded reworking of “Black Diamond” on Alive or Peter Frampton’s soaring live and extended version of the lesser studio single “Do You Feel Like We Do?” on Frampton Comes Alive. There aren’t any extended guitar or drum solos and most songs sound a lot like the versions you’ve already heard with a slightly more raw, distorted sound above the screaming.
For many, this is an absolute win as a lot of casual and non-casual fans want the versions they know. I can say that Meg’s drums and Jack’s red Montgomery Ward Airline guitar both sound great and in tune with just the right amount of live kinetic energy to keep the long album enjoyable. Nine Miles from the White City has enough going for it to be more than a “for fans only” release, but in that the release is literally available only to fans, this may be the very definition of a moot point.