Live Review: White Denim at Newcastle Warehouse 34 – 24th May 2014

By on Friday, 30th May 2014 at 5:00 pm
 

A writer’s job is often made easier if the band being reviewed is flawed – niggles, deficiencies and mediocrity are generally obvious, and the journalist can feel usefully employed in describing them and perhaps suggesting remedies. The better the band, the greater the challenge in finding something to write about that isn’t simple fawning praise. And then there’s White Denim, a band so accomplished that really this review could be distilled down to one sentence: “Flawless – go and see them without delay.” It really is as simple as that; we might as well stop there.

The world is replete with four-piece guitar bands who between them run the gamut of countless stylistic hues. Not many manage to weave countless genres and influences into a set of what is ostensibly ‘70s-style hard rock, but White Denim do. A band comprised entirely of virtuosos, they play with such insouciance that they could appear vaguely smug, were it not for the passion clearly evident in the music itself. Rhythm guitarist Austin Jenkins is the master of the deadpan riff, the tiniest of smiles playing across his lips, fingers evoking impossibly nimble, snaky guitar lines spun of the finest musical silk.

Bassist Steven Terebecki is similarly inscrutable. Indeed, the two stand close together throughout – their appearances could hardly be more different, but they are brothers in music. And then there’s James Petralli. Standing separate from the others, but facing towards them, leaning in whilst executing a fingerstyle lead line of a dexterity not seen since the era of Mark Knopfler, Petralli adds a touch of humanity to the relentless execution of his rhythm section.

Material-wise, they’re superb songwriters. Like a Steppenwolf in sheep’s clothing, they evoke dreamlike soundscapes of fuzz guitar, built of conventional tropes, but suddenly the direction might change gear into an abstract jazz interlude or a prog-rock wig-out. There’s a powerful streak of 60s soul infused throughout. Tonight’s set draws heavily from latest release, 2013’s ‘Corsicana Lemonade’, which is no bad thing, as the band themselves admit that this record comes closest to reflecting their live show, taming their wilder instincts, integrating pop-like melodies and simplifying arrangements, increasing their accessibility without compromising impact. There are spine-tingling moments aplenty, from the impossible riff of ‘In Dreams, At Night’, the understated cool of the title track, and proper straight-ahead blues-rocker ‘Pretty Green’. Perhaps a touch more from 2009’s startling ‘Fits’ would have been welcome, but that’s clutching at straws, really.

It’s been said that White Denim are the best live rock band in the world right now, and it’s difficult to disagree with that statement. Few, if any bands, achieve such an appealing blend of individual skill, mastery of several genres whilst still sounding like themselves, and complexity within the music whilst still retaining mainstream appeal. I’ve written as much about Wild Beasts before, except they have made a sidestep into electronica whilst White Denim are strictly a guitar ‘n’ drums outfit, and all the better for it. A brilliant inspiration for aspiring guitarists and living proof that guitar music still has its best days ahead of it.

See more of Martin’s high-res photos from this gig in the Toon on his Flickr.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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