White Denim @ Electric Ballroom, London 01.09.11

Texans dazzle technically but are let-down by static stage presence

Sep 1st, 2011 at Electric Ballroom, London / By Frank Kruyer
White Denim White Denim brought their psychedelic progressive garage rock to Camden’s Electric Ballroom for their largest UK headline show to date on the 1st September 2011. How would the slower pace and afro beat tinged surf rock direction of latest offering ‘D’ fare among the faithful? Would the transformation from a trio to a quartet have any effect on their raucous chemistry?

Whilst the Electric Ballroom may boast a revamped décor and balconied layout enabling almost all to grab a great view, the same cannot be said for the sound, will it ever improve? The quality is reminiscent of holding your ear to a tin can whilst a message is transferred down a piece of string tied to, another tin can.

The support for the evening comes in the shape of the Black Keys sourced trio, Royal Bangs. Whilst the simultaneous playing of lead keys and synth bass by vocalist Ryan Schaefer is impressive and the percussion is tight, the guitar tone can only be described as shrill. So much so that every time Sam Stratton’s left hand reaches above the seven fret a wince of anticipation is unavoidable. Very disappointing considering how the uplifting and progressive raggedy edged pop of third longplay Flux Outside promises so much more. Perhaps the layered audio landscape on record is a step too far for three mere mortals to recreate.

There is a real buzz in the air as White Denim waste no time in seamlessly gliding through the opening tracks of D. The off-beat timing of latest member Austin Jenkins rhythm guitar on the likes of ‘Burnished’ and the fantastic ‘Bess St.’ make it clear that the trio had to expand to properly recreate D and do these songs justice live.

No matter how refined White Denim may have become Steven Terbecki’s bass refuses to lose that guttural edge that enables the bands to never stray too far from the garage rock abrasiveness of Workout Holiday . Which leads us to the moment James Petrelli (whose vocals remain strong throughout the marathon set) begins to stab out the opening chords of ‘Shake Shake Shake’, the general consensus is that this is the balls out rawk moment everyone has been waiting for. After following up with ‘Radio Milk How Can You Stand It’ and the so hard to get out of your head ‘I Start To Run’ the decision to return to material from ‘D’ is questionable.

With little or no crowd interaction from opener or headliner alike all evening, a real sense of momentum seems to have been lost. Although always appreciative, those assembled begin to talk amongst themselves of those to the point where the underlying layer of chatter can clearly be heard during the performances most subtle moment ‘Street Joy’. Whatever happened to some good old fashioned banter? They may be talking, but none are leaving.

As the set lurches towards two hours on the clock the house appears as full as when the group stepped out and some classics from Fits really grabs the crowd by the scruff of the neck and sets them up for the culmination, a heavily extended, mesmerizing rendition of ‘Let’s Talk About It’. Technically an absolutely outstanding performance, although somehow lacking in the kind of character expected from this particular group of Texans.