May be confused about a few things, but honey I’m on the move…

white-denim-at-pembyfest-2016-viesmag-4If the day comes (when, surely) for there to be a general reckoning of Bloggers and sundry Internet quacks for their overall contribution to the commonwealth, I’ll stand in the line amongst the other middle-aged saps in Fall t-shirts, and blink nervously in the harsh sunlight as a series of solemn gentlemen open their man-bags and begin to interview their charges.

I’m guessing the exchange will be a fairly short one, before I fall silent and sullenly await the guillotine. There’ll be some sort of polite shuffling of papers, before my arbiter leans forward and says, in a gently concerned fashion,

“You, er,  missed a fair bit, didn’t you?”

White Denim, O2 Academy

Those last two (fairly florid) paragraphs were my way of berating myself for once again taking my eye off the ball in a particularly daft fashion. A friend of mine got me a ticket for this gig a while back, and I’d not really given it much thought since.

Truth be told, since I last saw them a few years back, I’d gone off White Denim a little and wasn’t much of a fan of 2013’s Corsicana Lemonade. It’s not bad but not as exciting as the earlier records, and this particular butterfly had other sticky treats to investigate. Consequently I was completely unaware of White Denim’s recent upheavals. You’ll no doubt have been all over the half-the-band-leaves-midway-through-next-record thing, and will have already formed your own opinions, but I missed it entirely.

Worse still, seeing the band come out at Bristol’s premier rock venue, I somehow remained unaware of the changes, and although one of my memories of seeing them in 2012 was the exhilarating interplay between guitarists Petralli and Jenkins, I managed to convince myself that these recollections were unreliable, figments of a flakey, capricious imagination.

*Shakes head ruefully*

Having said all this, sometimes ignorance is indeed a form of bliss – a couple of people I spoke to later had pooh-poohed the new line-up and recent performances, and being the hopelessly impressionable feller that I am, the evening would’ve been coloured somewhat if I had actually stayed awake at the wheel.

In fact, it was a pretty good, if boisterous evening with the new line up acquitting themselves well. New drummer, Jordan Richardson, impressed particularly, an enthusiastic, barrel-chested presence at the kit. He played the drums like Gareth Evans (Gloucester’s injured No 8) runs – head up, chest puffed out, boisterously charging through the set, arms akimbo like some sort of tubby wind-up toy.

Terebecki and Petralli were still the heart of the band, however, and a set which ran through most of the new record, Stiff, and touched on a lot of favourites from the back catalogue, was a reminder that even if the exhilarating twin guitar thing is no more there’s still plenty to get excited about. In fact, at least one punter remained blissfully heedless of the changes.

As before, it was something of a machine-gun attack, one blistering song piling on the shoulders of the previous one, with precious little chat and the sparsest of breathers between each one. Exhilarating stuff it was, and this old chap was left a little punch-drunk by the end of it all

The younger Academy punters got pretty excited and amongst the normal festivities, there was stage diving, limb-flailing careening around and enough rough stuff at the front to merit a few incursions from the security gents (and at least one feller being dragged out).

Sweaty, first class entertainment, all in all.

I’ve got a few noisy recordings for you…

Real Deal Mamma

Anvil Everything

Mirrored in Reverse

 

and if you fancy a quick comparison…

At the Farm (2016)

At the Farm / Say What You Want (End of the Road ’11, twin guitars a-sparkling…)

A burnished mistake, (how it gleams in the night)

I’ve been really buzzing all week after a super evening at the Academy inBristol, one that left me grinning from ‘ere to ’ere, so to speak. Trouble is some of the lustre of an evening being entertained by the omnipotent White Denim has faded a little as the days have gone by…

White Denim

From the first thud-crash-wallop of their opening song, the boys from Austin barely paused for breath, thundering through most of “D” and a good few earlier songs, often with the briefest of pauses between songs. It was merciless at times.

The guitar work of leader Petralli and Austin Jenkins is obviously the White Denim trade mark – the frantic interplay and joint meandering was bewildering and exhilarating throughout, no rhythm guitar duties for either of them apparently – but what I hadn’t quite expected was what a tight band they are.

I don’t mean to be wilfully contrary and I know I’m going to sound a little like the complete muso I clearly am not when I say that it was the rhythm section that (almost) stole the show.

He’s not your classic rock figure (“chubby” is the word, really) but Steven Terebeki really impressed on bass. After watching the low-slung, over-exuberance of support band White Arrows’ be-hoodied bass player jumping about eagerly in our faces, it was refreshing to see a bassist who just wanted to play his instrument. He was imaginative, clever and vast and was matched by the brutal, whirring pace of drummer Joshua Block. Between them they created the shuffling, galumphing rhythms that really make White Denim so much more interesting than just a guitar band.

As a band they made one hell of a maniacal racket, leaving my ears ringing for most of the following day. I’m OK with that.

Sorry to be less than precise about the songs they did but to be honest although they played for over an hour, it was all a bit of a blur.. I do remember versions of Street Joy, Drug, Is and Is and Is and then my memory fails me. Perhaps predictably, my puny Zoom H1 recorder took a look at me and said “Seriously?” before packing in, so I have no souvenirs and nothing to publish but my less than 20-20 memories. Apologies for this…

Have a watch of this instead…

Seven Great Records of 2011

Started thinking about this a few weeks ago and I realised it’s been a really strong year for new releases – I could’ve named twenty albums very easily. On top of that I’ve recently picked up on a couple of records from this year in the last couple of weeks – the Wilco and Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – ones both of which I’m pretty sure would’ve been on this list if I knew them a little better…

So …

Seven Great Records of 2011

Bad As Me – Tom Waits

Had a real binge on Tom Waits last year and consequently hadn’t spent a lot of time on him this year until this came out. A real stormer in the Real Gone tradition rather than Alice – lots of rough and ready, Beefheartian rumbles and a motor that still runs pretty well after all these years.

High Points:Chicago; Bad as Me; Raised Right Men

It’s bravest to stay,

Even braver to go,

Wherever she goes, I go.

Everything will be better in Chicago

Slave Ambient – War on Drugs

This is an interesting record in that it’s got a number of immediate first appearances that I’m not keen on (not a huge fan of Dylan, not a huge fan of Springsteen) and yet I can’t leave it alone. Some beautiful melodies, some surging synth atmospherics and some wonderful Byrds-y guitar work. Above all it’s a record characterised by some really engaging lyrics that drift, unhurried, through the songs as they unfold. Lovely rich stuff.


High Points
: Your Love is Calling My Name; Best Night; Brothers; I Was There

I was there catching air
Thought I had him by the hand
Only had him by the glove

D – White Denim

I come from a generation for whom the word “virtuosity” was considered a bit of a slap in the face, not something you aspired to, or at the very least concealed with some care. Although hardly new, it’s still pretty refreshing to find a band wearing their technical expertise proudly on their sleeve, not to say flaunting it a lot of the time. These fellers can all play, not just the guitars but the bass and drums are all interesting listens. Bracing, stimulating, invigorating – all in large dollops!


High Points
: Burnished/Back at the Farm; Street Joy; Anvil Everything

Crossed an ocean,

Faced a fear…

Gentle Spirit – Jonathan Wilson

I’ve already used “unhurried”, haven’t I, I’ll go for “leisurely”, then, as my go-to word for Gentle Spirit. I don’t get the impression Jonathon Wilson does any hurrying, and a quick scurry to Wikipedia to discover that this gorgeous folk gem took four years to put together doesn’t really surprise me at all. A beautiful, sun-blistered collection of leisurely, folky songs from another age. Not come across anyone unmoved by it…

High Points: Desert Raven; Can We Really Party today?; Valley of the Silver Moon

When my word’s come out

It’s like oil and water,

Separation, no reaction

Writing you now from the valley of the silver moon

Last of the Country Gentlemen – Josh T Pearson

A record that I bought before I went to Green Man, but which I didn’t really get into at the time. The last few weeks though, it’s really grabbed me by the throat. A huge contrast to the Jonathon Wilson record, unremittingly miserable and bitter (but in a good way) and really (really) intense. His deft guitar playing lightens the mood a little and is occasionally supplemented with heart-breaking violin. I love the way the songs are shapeless explorations (“ramblings” you could say, four of them running past the 10 minute mark) that come to a natural conclusion in their own sweet time. Phew!

High Points: Country Dumb; Woman When I’ve Raised Hell; Thou Art Loosed

Don’t make me rule this home with the back of my hand
Just let me sit alone in this chair, my own make believe little throne

 

The King is Dead – The Decemberists

I think I said last night, that I’ve rediscovered Colin Melloy and the Decemberists, courtesy of this record and the evening at the Academy. Really didn’t like The Hazards of Love (sounded like Queen to me), but the new record is a strong, strong come back from there. It’s a return to simpler songs and more understated canvases on which to tell his stories. I reckon the difference between this album and some of the earlier (great) ones is that the rest of the Decemberists have (been allowed to) come of age here and make tangible, intelligent contributions to what is a rich, quality record.

High Points: This Is Why We Fight; Rise to Me; Rox in the Box

And when we die,

We will die,

With our arms unbound

Zeroes QC – Suuns

I realise that I love this record beyond reasoned argument and get the feeling that it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the other records here in anyone else’s ears. Maybe one day, when the brouhaha has all died down, I’ll give this a listen and wonder what the fever was all about. But now, right now, from the first dull thud of the drum and the stylophone meanderings that introduce Armed for Peace, to the last heady drones and squeaks that complete Organ Blues, I just love this record. Damnit, why am I so bloody old!

High Points: Pie IX; Up Past the Nursery; PVC; Arena

Do you want to?

Do you want to?

Do you want to?

Seven Records I’m Proud to Have Bought in 2011

Here’s to Taking It Easy – Phosphorescent

Pride saw arch finger-pointer Matthew Hauk and pals sound a bit Bon Iver-y, which was OK but 2010’s follow up was a much more ballsy, countrified affair, with brass, slide guitars and riffs all over the shop –terrific value. I think I’ve already posted a video of my favourite track ( “God damn, Amanda, God damn it all”), so here’s the opener – Bah bah badda ba badda bah!

 

 

Swinging Addis – Ethiopiques Series

Or to be honest, any of the Ethiopiques series of which I bought, I think, eleven volumes during the course of the year. Amazing stuff which I’ve gone on about before. The video here is of Tlahoun “The Voice” Gessesse, and I love it…

 

 

Last Days of Summer – White Denim

I say bought …

It seems incredible now but for a good while this record was being chucked away free at the band’s web site, before being given an “official” release this year. It’s probably not quite as strong and self confident as D, but still full of bristle and brawn, and with trademark catchiness all over. Lots of play in the car…

 

 

I Often Dream of Trains – Robyn Hitchcock

Listened to quite a lot of Hitchcock this year, partly because of an ongoing Soft Boys thing but also as preparation for seeing him at Green Man, where he was great and did a surprise extra set comprised only of insect songs. Title track is a highpoint, but the version of “Great When You’re Dead” on Later is a treat. Have grown to love this record with something like devotion.

 

 

Mighty Baby – Mighty Baby

A charming record that I was tipped off about as a result of the LPGroup 1967 session. I’d be banging on about Rolled Gold, and was told to get hold of this record, Might Baby being the band the Action melded into towards the end of the sixties. Hugely embarrassed to have missed this for so long – it’s a belter! No real footage, I’m afraid…

 

 

Pigeons – Here We Go Magic

Really eclectic, interesting and above all smart collection of pop songs on Secretly Canadian. Bought it at the same time as I was grimly trying to get into Merriweather Post Pavilion and consequently is bound up with that record in my mind. The acceptable face being “clever”…

 

 

Jun Ray Song Chang – Asa Chang & Jun Ray

I love Twitter! One of my virtual chums mentioned this in passing and reacquainted me with a record I’d loved when it came out but had ab-so-lutely forgotten about. The whole record is a challenging but rewarding listen. Beautiful, compelling, contrary…

 


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…