White Denim

White Denim


White Denim’s vocalist/guitarist James Petralli and bassist Steve Terebecki have recently posited “loud, fast-playing, rock and  roll” as their motivation to get back on the road and into the studio, having recently shed their original rhythm section.  I’ve wanted to see them live since catching their appearance on “Later” a few years ago, and the constant championing by Marc Riley of them as a live band has led me to come to the Deaf Institute tonight with high, high expectations.

The venue is packed as we make our way to the end of the bar next to the stage.  From this vantage point we can see the ridiculous number of effect pedals used by the band.  I fear for my hearing, but when White Denim launch into opener ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)’ I realise my worries are unfounded. Unlike many effect led bands such as MBV who want to define a “sound”, White Denim use them to create focus and compression in the service of their songs.

The set itself features a number of new songs from forthcoming album Stiff, which is pre-ordered immediately after the gig.  (I impulsively opt for the deluxe vinyl package which comes together with a lighter, a bandana, a box of guitar picks and a packet of wild-flower seeds. No regrets).  Real highlights are the opener with its JB style funk, the freshness and re-invention of 12 bar blues ‘Real Deal Mama’, and ‘Holda You (I’m Psycho)’ where the band seem to have settled into the stage and are starting to test each other out.    ‘Limited By Stature’ and ‘It’s Him!’ also showcase the fluid transition of the band between styles, while the surging and muscular intro of ‘At Night In Dreams’ takes an already delighted crowd up to another level of energetic euphoria.

There’s not a huge amount of interaction with the crowd, but the connecting power of the music with the audience is profound.  Smiles abound, there’s head nodding aplenty and it’s sustained throughout the evening.  The connection with the bands’ music works on a number of levels, as they offer an enticing blend of elements;  primal blues, dirty rock and roll, soulful vocals, some catchy tunes and an endless supply of big riffs.  Add to this an engaging and fun demeanor on stage and it’s a heady mix.  Even the presence of a baseball cap being worn backwards by Petralli can be forgiven.

The baseball cap is relevant.  I realise as I watch them that there are enormous gaps in my own musical knowledge.  Friends tell me how White Denim reference a whole canon of west coast and mid 70’s rock, such as The Doobie  Brothers  and  Little Feat. The dueling guitars and harmony style harks back to a different time and to genres of American music that pre-date almost everyone in their audience.  White Denim’s genius is in translating this very American tradition into an accessible and yet totally eclectic brand of rock and roll that connects with us and makes complete sense. They’re also technically superb, and are unconstrained in expressing this.   The nearest UK reference point for me when Petralli and Terebecki launch into another impossibly virtuosic riff is video I’ve seen of Phil Lynott and Gary Moore trading licks.  Yes, they’re that good.

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