White Denim is a four-piece rock band from Austin, Texas, and last night they played their first set of a two-night residency at The Sinclair. Before diving into their blistering performance, though, it’s worth mentioning the exciting opening band, The Districts, and their more than cogent effort to prime the audience for the headliners. This observer was unfortunately privy to only their final song, but if you’re going to catch one piece of a performance, that’s the one to nab. The Districts cast sledgehammers upon the drums of our ears—check them out and expect to see much more of them in the future.
This observer had the opportunity to operate the soundboard for White Denim two years ago in a small venue in a small town. The band was in the nascent stages of promoting its new album D at the time, which is largely responsible for gathering the traction White Denim has received since that performance. The Austin natives have handled their success well, resulting in one blatant difference between last night’s show and the one at that small venue in that small town: the level of confidence emanating from each musician has increased tenfold. This is not by any means to say that the band was unnerved two years ago; they’ve simply taken things to a new level.
James Petralli is essentially the sole vocalist for the group. He flaunts a tenor a la Dan Auerbach that can both grunge and soar when the situation calls for it, and all the while he’s engaged in constant conversation (via guitar) with fellow guitarist Austin Jenkins. They construct a formidable duo that spends at least half of each song in unbelievably complex dialogue, either mirroring, alternating, or engaging in counterpoint with one another through elaborate melodic runs. Top that off with a profusion of irregular meters, modulations and chord progressions that are highlighted by modal riffs—usually variations on standard blues and jazz scales—and you’ve got yourself some complicated stuff. Yet last night, throughout these virtuosic exchanges the pair didn’t even blink—Petralli never even looked at his guitar; they simply smiled and rocked out together, as if they’ve just discovered for the first time that they are both fluent in the same language, one of which we mere mortals can only begin to understand.
The progressive/math rock genre of which White Denim is a flourishing member adds a level of awe to the performance (for the aforementioned reasons), but considerable skill does not always translate to mainstream success. Many of progressive rock’s pioneers, though supremely talented and critically lauded, were only able to accrue a devoted cult following—probably mostly due to our short attentions spans. White Denim blends proficiency with the listenable sound of indie rock, and although the band probably doesn’t qualify as “mainstream” (yet), that fate will not be shared by them. If past masters Steely Dan and Robert Fripp joined forces and created an indie rock band today, they would probably sound something like White Denim.
The band’s musicianship is just unbelievably inimitable. Bassist Steven Terebecki, quietly great himself, supplements the guitarists with low frequency and warmth that act as apt ballasts to the melodic guitars. Everything is then backdropped by drummer Joshua Block, who can only be described as a drum legend in the making. Syncopations and polyrhythms abound in his approach to the instrument; he doesn’t make anything easy on himself. Block is the infrastructure that supports the wonderfully rich construction of sound, and he does everything just as effortlessly as his bandmates. At The Sinclair, each musician exuded complete trust in his own talent and in the talent of the three musicians at his side, resulting in an amazingly synced performance with flawless transitions between meter, key and song. White Denim played through most of their latest album, Corsica Lemonade, and interpolated the set with memorable moments of the past. If you have the opportunity to see them (they're playing at The Sinclair again tonight, GO!), or even just listen to their recordings, let your mind wander from instrument to instrument, and then appreciate the latticework of sonic wizardry the band casually pulls off on every single track.