In a little over two years Rock Club has seen roughly 300 bands (no, My Morning Jacket is not one of them). Some good, some bad, a lot in between. I always wondered if I'd head out one night and be completely blown away by a band. You think it'll happen but it doesn't. Maybe I've become cynical. The more likely answer is that while yes, there are a lot of good bands out there, you rarely see a band that unexpectedly melts your face. We've seen some amazing shows. Sleater-Kinney, LCD Soundsystem, and The Dismemberment Plan reunions shows come to mind. But I expected as much going into those shows. The only band that truly caught me off guard was The Gossip. Well, on Thursday night in Austin I saw a band that even topped The Gossip. That band is White Denim.
I hadn't planned on going out until we received an email suggesting I go see Peel at Mohawk. I'm always up for seeing Peel. I love those guys (and girl). Peel, Zookeeper, and White Denim were all opening for Brazos.
Peel was up first and were great. I never get tired of their first album and the songs off their new EP, August Exhaust Pipes (go download it for free!), are just as good, if not better. The set was much better than when I saw them open for Oxford Collapse and Frightened Rabbit. After they finished I debated whether to call it night. I decided to stick around since the place was packed and hopping. The crowd seemed anxious for the next band to begin so I settled in on the railing overlooking what I thought was Zookeeper.
The first thing that came into my mind when they launched into their set: MC5. They had a bristling energy from the get go. I was dumbfounded. I turned to the girl next to me, Olivia, and asked if she had seen Zookeeper before. She replied, "That's not Zookeeper, that's White Denim!". Over the next few songs Olivia brought me up to speed on the history of the band, including their devasting performances at this year's SXSW which landed them on the cover of the Arts Section of The New York Times.
The band is an explosive mix of punk and blues rock. That mix of punk, blues and soul is tough to pull off but when you do, it's a something to behold (think early White Stripes). It makes for great rock and roll, the kind I've been dying to hear since the onslaught of beardy bands started a little over a year ago.
Josh Block on drums sets the tone for the band. He beats the drums like they sassed his momma. James Petralli on guitar and lead vocals has quite a few tricks up his sleeve. He produces a myriad of sounds from the guitar, from funky riffs to sonic distortion. When singing he utilizes two microphones. The extra one distorts the vocals with a sampler (as best as I could tell). Also, while onstage he has the perfect rock persona, which doesn't hurt.
The real star though is the bassist, Steve Terebeki. He lays down the sweet beats. His fast, funky riffs and amazing skills aren't what you'd expect from a tiny man who has the boyish looks of a 7th grader. Seeing him jam away and clearly love every moment only got the crowd more into the show. You can't help but like these guys.
The set seemed short and before I knew it they thanked the packed crowd and started packing up their gear. In my mind I was thinking, "What? That's it?! NOOOO! KEEP PLAYING!!!" But it wasn't to be. There was no encore. I'm forced to wait until their set at ACL. You can be sure I'll be up close for that.
After the show I was speechless. I had never been so blown away by a band. I wasn't prepared for it at all. Inside Mohawk I ran into my friend Callie (a.k.a. Show Lush). She's seen White Denim a few times and said my reaction was fairly typical. The band simply crushes.
I feel like this is my Jon Landau moment. In 1974, the influential music critic went to see a 25-year-old singer-songwriter. Amazed by what he heard, Landau wrote the famous line, "I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. I saw something else: I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." Now, I'm not saying that White Denim is the next Bruce Springsteen (who is?) but I know one thing for sure. They're one band I'll be following for years to come (or as long as they're together) and I'll go see them live every chance I get.
"Let's Talk About It" by White Denim