The Bluebird Theater
I had been hearing about White Denim for a couple of years, yet between the avalanche of new music continuing to be released and still reveling in the nostalgic joy of my favorite bands of the past, I just never found the time or motivation to check them out. Then a friend of mine suggested that I give their latest release, D, a spin. Wow, had I been missing out! The album was brimming with raw energy and creative melodic structures reminiscent of classic progressive rock artists such as Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Rush, albeit with a more contemporary slant. Lush psychedelic textures, soulful vocals, jazzy interludes and hard-hitting power chords tickled my tympanic membranes, and immediately, I knew that I wanted to see them live. Much to my disappointment, as the months went by, I always seemed to be out of town when they were coming through. Finally, while streaming Radiohead’s live Bonnaroo webcast, I noticed that White Denim’s own Bonnaroo performance was being rebroadcast on a different channel. Once I switched over, I never went back. Not to shit all over Thom Yorke‘s crew, they are consummate professionals and always deliver a stellar performance, but here was a fresh band that seemed to be pushing the boundaries of contemporary music with a youthful exuberance that is sometimes lacking in tenured bands such as Radiohead. Now it was imperative that I see White Denim as soon as possible. Thankfully, they had a show scheduled for July 30 at the Bluebird Theater, one of my favorite venues in Denver.
Knowing that there would be two opening bands, my friends and I took our time getting to the venue. Choosing to skip Palace’s performance in exchange for an extended rooftop happy hour, we watched ominous storm clouds roll down the mountains toward us, obscuring the setting sun. Luckily, no rain fell before it was time to make our way to the Bluebird, but the looming darkness certainly ushered in an electric suspense as we paid our tab and drove through the hunkering city.
Being a Monday night concert, I feared that the venue and crowd would lack the vibe necessary to inspire a top-tier performance. At the same time, I was hoping that it wouldn’t be sold out, so that we could find a good spot close to the stage. However, both concerns would soon be allayed. We arrived just as the second opener kicked into their set, the venue barely half full and plenty of space to move around. Settling into a roomy pocket stage right, we spent the next half-hour unsuccessfully trying to converse over the distorted throwback grunge jams of School Knights, a band that I probably would have loved 20 years ago as a drunk high-schooler at a house party. Truth be told, I’m slowly turning into a crotchety old man, and their brand of guitar dissonance made me eager for White Denim to take the stage.
White Denim hail from Austin, TX, one of the most fertile music communities in the country. They are the synthesis of two previous bands, Parque Touch and Peach Train, renaming the band White Denim in 2006. Their debut full-length LP, Workout Holiday was released in Europe in the summer of 2008, with their U.S. debut, Exposion following later that year. Both received high praise from critics. 2009 saw the release of their third album, Fits, and by 2010, White Denim had settled into to their current lineup of two guitarists, one bassist, and one drummer. D, their 4th and most recent LP, was released in May of 2011, and made the top of many “Best of the Year” lists.
James Petralli (vocals, guitar), Steve Terebecki (vocals, bass), Josh Block (drums) and Austin Jenkins (guitar) walked onto to the stage at roughly 10pm. By this time the crowd had filled in quite a bit, but the venue still felt spacious — a perfect balance. The band eased us into night with the D slow-burner “Street Joy,” which began with the ethereal lyrics “I don’t mind the sound, of your voice, of your voice.” Petralli’s own voice hovered effortlessly from wispy alto verse to anthemic tenor chorus, showcasing his vocal prowess early on. In fact, throughout the whole show, the frontman sang with gritty emotion and infallible tone, elevating the stellar musicianship of the rest of the band into a whirlwind of sonic energy.
After “Street Joy,” White Denim slid smoothly into “Anvil Everything,” also from the album D, which loosened the band up into a more improvisational current. As a fairly new fan unfamiliar with much of their catalogue, excepting D, I had already begun to lose track of which songs they were playing. For nearly the entire rest of the show, the 4-piece would take minimal breathers, segueing from song to song and style to style with the precision of seasoned professionals.
Coming out of a hard-stomping blues rocker, the band collectively dropped into a spicy Bossa Nova groove, riding out unique peaks and valleys along the way, as Block showed off his impressive chops on the kit and Terebecki’s bass bombs got everyone’s ass shaking. A few jams later, the band turned on a dime and plunged into the trippy D cut “Drug,” their most recent single and probably most recognizable song. The crowd responded ecstatically, as not a soul in the room was standing still by this point.
After a short pause, the Austin quartet launched into what seemed like a southern-fried lounge tune, followed later by a song that echoed late-era Talking Heads funk, Petralli’s soulful vocals feeling right at home in either genre. The band continued to blend and bend musical forms as they seamlessly barreled through a number of songs with an unrelenting ferocity. We were all head-banging along in rapture when they ripped into the instrumental rager “At the Farm,” an intricate prog-rocker highlighted by impressive guitar work by both Petralli and Jenkins. Around this time, I head-butted my friend in the back as a way to non-verbally express my excitement that “THIS BAND IS THE FUCKING SHIT!!!” Subsequently, the poor girl standing in front of him got splashed by his beer, but she didn’t seem to mind much, as White Denim continued to kill it on-stage.
A welcomed safety break arrived before the band fired up another dark rocker that eventually transitioned into one of my personal favorites off of D, “Is and Is and Is.” Starting off with hauntingly arpeggiated minor chords, the song eventually crescendoed into power chord bliss–Petralli channeling his inner Ian Astbury for the chorus. The band peaked out “Is and Is and Is” with dramatic flair, finally resolving into a crazy flamenco-metal jam and ending the set on a serious high note. For the encore, they chose a moody, mellow builder that framed the show nicely. At this point, White Denim had played intensely for nearly 2 hours straight, and everyone around appeared satisfied with the night’s festivities.
For the last couple of years, White Denim have been garnering increasingly more press, with every show receiving lavish praise from nearly all that attend. After witnessing their act first hand, I believe that they deserve even more. In fact, I won’t hesitate to say that they are one of the most entertaining live acts touring today, and the promise for their future is as bright as any band out there. If you haven’t gotten to experience a White Denim concert yet for yourself, I highly recommend you do so with the utmost urgency.
Upcoming tour dates can be found on the band’s ingenious website at WhiteDenimMusic.com