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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.

 

Album Review: White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade

 
By on Monday, 2nd December 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

White Denim Corsicana Lemonade cover2011’s fourth album ‘D’ brought about a continuation of White Denim’s career theme: an eccentric noodling take on math rockery. In ‘D’ they showed an audaciousness that was perhaps unseen in their previous works and served to get them noticed, perhaps so noticed that they ended up headlining TGTF’s stage at The Great Escape in 2011. But that’s by the by.

They were experimental to almost excessive lengths on ‘D’; on their new release ‘Corsicana Lemonade’, they seem even more hell-bent on shoe-horning as many time changes and genres into the record. One moment, you’re bopping at a low key club with an electro beat pumping through you on ‘Limited by Stature’, the next you’re in Rio swept up by a carnival atmosphere before you’re whisked away on a trippy as balls magic carpet by ‘Let It Feel Good (My Eagles)’.

The harsh guitar rhythms are a constant of the album, driving it on; however, it is in songs like the aforementioned ‘Let It Feel Good (My Eagles)’ where White Denim’s funk credentials are unleashed, as they bound forward with an old-school drum beat and some fancy strum work from Austin Jenkins and frontman James Petralli.

The band’s blues and jazz background comes to the fore on this record too, perhaps even more than in ‘D’ and ‘Fits’. We’re even treated to some dirty, DIRTY sax on ‘Cheer Up / Blues’, where Petralli is bleeding a schmooze-y, sexy kind of sleaze. Old-school meets the very, very new-school in a brilliant way throughout this ten-song testament to White Denim’s immense need to challenge everything.

Any semblance of conventional song structure is a thing of the past for the Texas four-piece. It’s a not a ‘giant middle finger’ to the dogma of 21st century experimentation, it’s a whole different take that manages to sound authentic and homely whilst stretching frontiers. Most of the album is rather frenetic, and then everything settles down as the tenth track slides effortlessly in: ‘A Place To Start’ is a contradiction to the rest of the album, it’s spellbindingly simple – a demonstration of how White Denim are developing their sound and using James Petralli’s gorgeous vocals to take them to an entirely new level.

My personal highlight comes within the first 30 seconds of the record, with a criminally funky roll through the chords during ‘A Night in Dreams’. I challenge anyone to listen to the first 30 seconds of this album and not be breaking out a horrendously finicky air guitar. Combine that with the scathing vocals and you’ve got a winner in ‘Corsicana Lemonade’: an album with enough hooks to get them noticed, and enough daring to keep everyone guessing what their next move could be.

9/10

‘Corsicana Lemonade’, the latest album from Texans White Denim, is out now on Downtown Records. Watch the band bust out ‘A Night in Dreams’ for LA radio station KCRW below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOJbPpdP84k[/youtube]

 

MP3 of the Day #519: White Denim

 
By on Thursday, 12th April 2012 at 10:00 am
 

White Denim‘s new song is called ‘Get Back to Love (Street Joy)’, and it’s an interesting direction for the band to go in – it’s a smoother, almost jazzier song you don’t expect from them at all. Listen to and download it below.

 

Bingley Music Live: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Wednesday, 5th October 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

It’s the second day of Bingley Music Live ’11, the first of two paying days, but at £35 for the Saturday and Sunday, no one’s really complaining. It’s a far cry from neighbouring Leeds Festival as the 15,000 descend back on Myrtle Park, Bingley, readying themselves for a day of sunshine and music.

Due to the excess amount of people arriving in the area, trains are pushed to their limit on the arrivals front and as such, my first train of two for the day was delayed and I managed to miss the first three acts of the day and Dot Rotten is hardly my thing, but when White Denim come on, the fun really begins. They’re showmen at heart, not the most commanding or talkative towards crowds, but musically, showmen that could make most showboating guitarists blush. Their set is half an hour of mostly instrumental which allows the revellers to have a little dance, even if they have no idea who’s on stage in front of them for the most part. After them come another showman in the form of ex-Fratellis’ frontman, Jon Fratelli. Mixing his new solo material with a blend of full electric band and adding in a few ‘telli’s classics such as ‘Chelsea Dagger’ and ‘Whistle for the Choir’, he manages to rustle up a lot of good feeling across the site as people warm to both him and today’s scorching weather.

After a lengthy changeover (Fratelli had two drumkits: two!), it’s Athlete‘s turn to wow. As one of those bands with a fair few songs you know, but not many you associate with the band, the crowd appear pleasantly surprised as track by track they turn to their friends and go “hey, I know this one too!” and eventually surprise turns into genuine happiness as ‘Wires’ brings a heartwarming singalong from the assembled masses.

Mystery Jets bring another big show as they’re now so accustomed to doing. With tracks like ‘Two Doors Down’ through to ‘Serotonin’, and even a track with the Count and Sinden featuring to add a Feeder and Maximo Park. The former bring their latest album alive from what was a pretty average record to being a set of crowd pleasers in the form of ‘Renegades’ and ‘This Town’, whilst the bona-fide hits of ‘Buck Rogers’ and ‘Feeling a Moment’ get the crowd going as if they were back at Skindred’s show yesterday. Grant Nicholas and company have been in one of the most overlooked bands of their generation in my opinion as they’ve lacked complete consistency, but they’ve never been a group to disappoint in the live scenario as it’s constant hits and smiles from the trio. After a mere hour, Feeder’s set comes to an end and everyone brushes down in preparation for tonight’s best dressed headliners.

True to form, Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith dashes on to stage and instantly connects with the energy reserves of Bingley and from ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ onwards, he’s the most theatrical and enigmatic frontman of the day by far. Almost spitting out some of his lyrics, Smith appears invigorated by his spell as a solo artist and as such, being back with his band appears to have given them a new lease of life. New track ‘Waves of Fear’ blends in with both newer and older material with the likes of the beautiful ‘Going Missing’  and ‘The Kids Are Sick Again’’s “I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again” bringing delight from both performers and the newly found 15,000 strong backing vocalists (the singalong to the former being a weekend highlight). The north eastern band prove that they deserve their billing at the top of the weekend.

With the second firework display in 2 days, Bingley Music Live’s second day is over and the pandemonium is over. Everyone remembers how they fell for the day’s bands and I’m sure I’m not the only one who leaves wondering how I managed to hear so many hits in the space of one evening in West Yorkshire.

 

End of the Road 2011: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Wednesday, 14th September 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

Whether deliberate or not, every day at a festival seems to take on a theme of its own, and somehow this phenomenon seemed more pronounced at End of the Road Festival this year at Larmer Tree Gardens on the border between North Dorset and Wiltshire. Friday was ladies’ day, no doubt about it, with some old codgers thrown in for good measure; not a young man in sight. Against all September odds, Friday morning brought blazing sunshine: the only appropriate response was a trip to the Garden Stage. With its gently sloping natural auditorium, vegetation-tasselled stage, meandering peacocks, and an original 19th century Romantic ‘acoustic stage’ adjacent to the modern replacement, it’s strong contender for the most beautiful stage on the festival circuit.

There could be no act more appropriate for a sit down on some warm grass than the Secret Sisters, equipped as they are with so much Georgian bonhomie that you can almost taste the apple pie. Their love for all things Hank, expressed in old-time country harmonies and slow-burning ballads, sets the tone for the next few hours: laid-back, sultry Americana, and a few new, original pieces which hint at plenty of burgeoning songwriting ability. Caitlin Rose continues the Americana theme with her songwriterly country songs, a bit like a Nashville KT Tunstall. Equipped with a smooth, precise backing band, as the set develops Rose’s diva-ish tendencies become more apparent, digging deep into emotional strands and at moments coming across as a guitar-wielding Dolly replacement.

The girls continue showing how its done with dreamy Californian beach-beaters Best Coast a perfect complement to the cloud-free sky. Somewhat more grunged-up than on record, the essence of their sound remains the dreamy vocals of of Bethany Cosentino; if they don’t deliberately set out to sound as if they’re trapped in a ’50s Venice beachfront diner jukebox, then it’s an amazing coincidence. A quick jaunt back to the wonderful Garden Stage for arguably the highlight of the day, tUnE-yArDs. Essentially the solo project of Connecticutian Merrill Garbus, the set revolves around the live recording and layering of looped samples. But this is as far away from the usual singer-songwriter rhythm guitar/solo guitar loop pedal usage as it’s possible to be. Equipped with nothing more than a floor tom, electrified ukelele and extraordinary voice, the songs start with such random yelps and thumps that the listener’s ear can barely credit that anything resembling conventional music will coalesce. But slowly, like the emergence of a baby platypus from its egg, melodies and rhythms that are not only recognisable, but utterly beautiful and compelling, emerge. A masterclass of microtones and almost infinitely small beat fragments, which perhaps explains the strong African flavour of tracks like ‘Bizness’, there’s plenty to keep both the brain and the feet active throughout the set. Garbus is a quite unique voice in modern music, and hopefully she has a long and fruitful career ahead of her.

Some light relief comes in the form of Joan as Police Woman. Somewhat more conventional in terms of arrangement and song structure, with sumptuous organ tone and soulful material, this is a gentle bump to earth after the craziness that has gone before. Possibly too gentle – this would work as a chill-out set but lacks a certain punch to keep the early-evening momentum going. The pause is shortlived, however; Lykke Li (pictured at top) takes the main stage just as a peachy sunset stretches itself over the Dorset sky. Flouncing around the stage clad in a floor-length black leather dressing gown, the Swedish gothic pixie literally turns day into night. With an epic, drum-led sound, and couplets like “I’m your prostitute / you’re gonna get some”, there’s little time to breathe between one climactic coda and the next. By the time ‘Rich Kids Blues’ turns the stage blood-red, the band are pounding drums with all their might, the air thick with drama. The hours of darkness have rarely been more appropriately introduced.

After such a broad spectrum of female excellence, it would be quite reasonable to wonder what else could there possibly be to add? The answer – the grungy, soulful, sexy She Keeps Bees. At times reminiscent of a slower, female-fronted Nirvana; at others the obvious leftfield-rock-chick comparisons are overwhelming. The music is simple, the focus on singer and guitarist Jessica Larrabee, with a brace of guys for guitar and drum embellishment. The owner of a soul voice of enviable depth, the contrast with the pounding drums and lowest-of-lo-fi guitar is captivating. A brave, perfect a capella ‘Bones Are Tired’, knocked off as the guitarist changes a broken string, holds the tent in silent appreciation. A brilliant climax to a superb run of female performers.

At last, a man! He is Gordon Gano, latterly playing with the Ryans, but formerly of seminal 1980s alt-rockers Violent Femmes, and something of a legend in rarefied circles. His new material is still in the garage-rock vein, although leaning more towards Athens rather than Seattle: the songs taking their time and revealing their beauty carefully and deliberately. The modest crowd betrays the fact that Gano is hardly a household name – until he plays ‘Blister in the Sun’, that is. Track one of Violent Femmes’ debut album is one of those rare songs that is immediately familiar and loveable, but hardly anyone knows what it’s called or who it’s by. Gano is clearly fully aware of its power; he closes the set with a version that’s deliberately drawn out for countless choruses. As people pour into the tent for the very last bit of the last song, Gano gets to play just a few bars to the packed crowd he deserves.

Most of the people who should really have been watching Gordon Gano and the Ryans are taking their place for the Fall; Peel-lemmings meeting their fate. A comprehensive assessment of the Fall’s career to date from the evidence of one performance simply isn’t possible or even fair, so won’t be attempted here. On a simply objective level however, tonight’s gig borders on the unlistenable. Mark E. Smith’s utterly incoherent ramblings add nothing to the conventional rock backdrop produced by whichever band he’s managed to cobble together this week. The tension is barely lifted when his wife Eleni Poulou takes lead vocal for whole songs at a time. Either heavily inebriated or the victim of a massive stroke, only the most passionate of fans would know whether his slurred lyrics hold any great insight, and only then purely from memory. Pedigree doth not guarantee relevance, and with John Lydon doing the naughty old frontman thing with far more coherence, clarity, wit, and musical aplomb, on this evidence it’s hard to see the relevance of The Fall.

As the crowd disperses, there are rumours of nightly forest discos, of secret performances and other curious goings-on. But after nearly 12 hours of music, and a quick sit down to White Denim’s jazzy, hazy rock, it’s clear that sleep is the only option. After all, tomorrow will bring a brand new theme all of its own.

 

MP3 of the Day #375: White Denim

 
By on Tuesday, 9th August 2011 at 10:00 am
 

Back in March we told you about the new White Denim track ‘Drug’ and how you could download it. Well, hold on to your hats. Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John has remixed ‘Drug’. Less obvious are the guitars and more obvious are the fuzzy overlays and psychedelic organ Yttling has put on this track. The overall effect? Trippy, man.

 
 
 

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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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