Lean my head against an angry moon…

OK. This has taken an absolute age to get sorted, but I think it’s worth it…

White Denim @ End of the Road

So, I was too tight to buy a ticket for End of the Road this year, and have spent a good month regretting it now. Terrific line up, loads of bands I wanted to see and loads of friends going without me.

Next best thing, was obviously to persuade one of said friends to take my Zoom recorder along (take a bow, Marcus) and then prevail upon another of said friends to take photos, shoot video and write words (step forward, Liz, the very first guest writer to appear on Partly Porpoise…).

I’m probably not the best person to be writing this. Gig reviews are supposed to be objective, right? Whatever. To say that White Denim were the only reason I bought a ticket for End of the Road this year would be an exaggeration. Who am I kidding! White Denim were the only reason I bought a ticket for End of the Road this year. D is my favourite record of 2011 by some distance. It shows a softer, ‘poppier’ side to the band, the obvious influences somehow melding together into a distinctive, effortless brand of psychedelic-garage-prog-pop with some scraps of trad country and folk thrown in for good measure. Still present are the quirky stop/start, messed-up time signatures, proggy guitars and killer bass riffs which made Workout Holiday such an exciting record, but an equal emphasis now appears to have been placed on melody, and to good effect. Add to that a phenomenal standard of musicianship and you’ve got yourself a thrilling live show.

The last time I saw this band play live, at Kings College in London, in what is basically the student union bar, I came away half deaf and covered in bruises but it was completely exhilarating.
So I was pretty excited to see White Denim at End of the Road. Headlining the Big Top stage (aka the Tent of Dreams) on the Friday evening of the festival was a good thing because I’m not sure I could have maintained a whole weekend at that level of anticipation. Clearly, getting a place at the front was a matter of prime importance. Normally this isn’t a problem: get there early, claim a spot and stick to it. Not so fast. The Fall were playing on the Garden Stage immediately beforehand, requiring a strategic early exit (thanks MES for ambling offstage, right on cue, fifteen minutes early) and a quick sprint to the Big Top to beat the crowds. Front position secured.

From taking to the stage and launching straight into It’s Him, the opening track of D, there was hardly time for audience or band to draw breath.  The powerhouse triumvirate of Burnished, At The Farm and Say What You Want was somewhat like clinging on for dear life in a wind tunnel. I feel weak just thinking about it. The set included hefty chunks of Workout Holiday and Fits – Shake Shake Shake, I Start To Run, Don’t Look That Way At It, All Consolation, Mirrored and Reverse – but was otherwise D in its entirely, with only Keys left out. The recent addition of an extra guitarist appears to have transformed White Denim from a rough and ready garage rock three piece into an intensely powerful psych-prog quartet, delivering an intricately structured wall of sound. It’s difficult to see how things could get any more complex as one song seamlessly segues into the next, all four band members equally contributing their own multi-pronged piece of the sonic jigsaw. New guitarist Austin Jenkins looks like he’s having the time of his life, and who can blame him. Steve Terebecki studies his bass riffs so intently he’s almost like a school kid, biting his tongue while concentrating on getting his spellings right. And Josh Block is such a clever drummer, his syncopated rhythms the bedrock for all this messing about. If one had to level a criticism, it might be that old songs like Shake Shake Shake have lost some of the rough edges which made them so thrilling, but if that is at the expense of having developed into a multi-layered bundle of euphoria, then maybe that’s a worthwhile compromise.

The band’s influences have been often and variously quoted (Zappa, Beefheart, Zeppelin, Cream, Canned Heat, Jethro Tull, King Crimson blah blah blah) but to dwell on any of that is to do them an injustice because what they do, superbly well, is to create something completely unique out of this familiar palate. They exude a genuine muso-geek aura and are clearly disinterested in being ‘fashionable’. Why bother with fashion when you’ve got something far more profound to say? They are, in fact, men of few actual words. At one point singer and virtuoso guitarist James Petralli says they’ve been told to turn the amps down, much to the disapproval of the audience. He politely apologises. That’s about as much conversation as we get.

A quick word after the show ascertains that they will be returning to theUK in March and I’m already counting the days. Utterly thrilling.

Have a watch of Liz’ video of “At the Farm” and “Say What You Want”. It does look great.

Marcus’ recordings have turned out pretty well, too, and it really does sound like a pretty special set…

It’s Him

Burnished

At the Farm / Say What You Want

Street Joy

Anvil Everything

Bess St.

Shake Shake Shake

All Consolation / I Start to Run

Is and Is and Is

Don’t Look That Way At It

Paint Silver Gold

Mirrored and Reverse / Drug

It’s like I was there…

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kevin Fredericks
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 01:16:47

    my interest into these guys just keeps on growing. Thanks for the video!

    Reply

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