Gig Review by Daron Billings with Photography by John Bentley

White Denim, Birmingham Glee Club, 26-5-14

With no less than half a dozen rocktastic albums under their belts and an enviable live reputation you’d think Austin four piece White Denim should be investing in a nice range of giant inflatable animals and playing stadiums the size of small African countries by now. But here they are in the relatively modest Glee Club which, although sold out and rammed to the rafters, is probably around the size of the average stadium dressing room. Still, it doesn’t seem to bother them, nor opening band Deathcrush a raucous no wave trio from Oslo fronted by two ladies in cut off denim shorts (blue denim sadly, not white…they missed a trick there) and a dude on drums. Kicking off their set with the catchily titled Lesson #16 for Beatmaster V / Fun (at least that’s what it seems to be called) they added a little punk, rap and screamcore to the no wave mix creating the kind of track that manages to be both sludgily head nodding and spikily head banging at the same time. Neat neat neat. By the next track lead singer Linn Nystadnes was out in the crowd screaming “put your hands on my shoulders” at people. No one did sadly, although you half expect she might have ripped ‘em off and beaten the offender to death with ‘em if they had but still, bonus points for leaving the relative safety of the stage this early on in the set. Older listeners may detect a Slits meets Nirvana vibe in amongst the edgier more experimental no wave sound and that’s a pretty decent combination in my book. In the wrong hands this might come across a little contrived but Deathcrush pull it off remarkably well with none other than the genial great uncle of punk, Goldblade’s John Robb calling their sound “a stunning and effective dissemination of the New York sassy cool trash aesthetic into a new century and with their own vital slant”. Er…quite…I really couldn’t have put it better myself.

Deathcrush, Birmingham Glee Club, 26-5-14
Deathcrush, Birmingham Glee Club, 26-5-14

White Denim may not be ‘sassy’ and I’m not convinced they bring a ‘cool trash aesthetic’ either but one thing they do do (not dodo, that’s just a big extinct bird…) is…pause for dramatic effect…ROCK. Hell yeah! Ahem. In fact within just a couple of seconds of opening track Pretty Green they’d managed to blow a transformer. Now that’s ROCK. Like much of White Denim’s output there’s a classic 70s feel to it and, like many of tonight’s best bits (which was practically the whole TWO hour show…yep, TWO hours my friends, now that’s value), it drifts off into a bit of a head melting jam that makes me wish I had looooooooooooong hair to shake. Happily some of the crowd did, losing several million braincells in the process no doubt, but once the Denim get in the groove resistance is frankly futile. Speaking of groove next track Corsicana Lemonade is such a prime slice of southern fried funk rock that even the clinically dead would end up shaking their hips a little. Topping off a trio of Denim classics (FYI both of the first tracks were culled from 2013’s highly recommended Corsicana Lemonade) they travelled back to 2011’s album D for a fabulously funked up version of River To Consider. It’s got a kind of Steely Dan feel to it and at times this evening it doesn’t take an overly fertile imagination to see White Denim as their natural heirs, especially given the band’s musical prowess (Steely Dan were sticklers for musical perfection too).

White Denim, Birmingham Glee Club, 26-5-14

With the aid of a sizeable collection of effects pedals (nice footwork there dude…Fred Astaire would be proud of you) lead singer James Petralli managed to tease some impressive sounds out of his guitar whilst drummer Joshua Block provided the meaty beats. As much as the two of them rock out the other 50% of the band, Terebecki on bass and Jenkins on guitar, are relative pictures of calm, keeping the whole thing grooving along the highway…albeit with the odd off road detour for some more funky/psychy jams. Highlights? Too many to note but Anvil Everything added a little Who style Pinball Wizard-ish riff to proceedings, I’d Have It Just The Way We Were invited Mssrs Jazz and Funk to the party and Shake Shake Shake summoned up the spirit of Jimi Hendrix jamming with Iggy and The Stooges.

White Denim, Birmingham Glee Club, 26-5-14
White Denim, Birmingham Glee Club, 26-5-14

By the time we got to the glam boogie of At Night In Dreams I…and many others…was a sweaty mess (serves me right for attempting to pogo in a waistcoat and tie I guess). It’s a glorious track, catchy enough to bounce up and down to but with enough intricate riffs to please the beard strokers too, not an easy (Little) Feat to pull off. That’s one of the really impressive things about the Denim, a seemingly effortless ability to embrace several different genres, often all at the same time, without it sounding like mushy mess. “This is the only band we go to see” yelled one particularly enthusiastic fan down my ear towards the end of the set. In fact she’d travelled all the way up from that there London town to see them (she’s off to their London gig at the somewhat larger Shepherd’s Bush Empire this Wednesday too). Can’t say I blame her. In the absence of a time machine White Denim represents the best chance any of us will get to experiencing what many would consider to be rock’s golden age, whilst still adding their own unique spin on things. “I want to give you a trip to remember” sang James on encore Tony Fatti. I’d say job done there my friend. White Denim…jean geniuses.

White Denim, Birmingham Glee Club, 26-5-14

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