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I am not a music critic. I am unversed in that field’s peculiar exalted jargon, and I’m unable to evaluate a band very much beyond assessing whether or not I like it.
I do, however, have more than 13,000 songs on my iPod. And I’ve attended, over the past 30 years, a few hundred live shows. So I can say with a certain amount of confidence that I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like White Denim.
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This four-piece Austin band played 90 scorching minutes on Monday night at the Bluebird, the band’s biggest local headlining venue yet. (They opened for Wilco at the Fillmore earlier this year, and in the past they’ve played at Larimer Lounge and other spots around town.)
To call White Denim unique does a disservice to uniqueness. They sound almost nothing like the songs on my iPod—maybe because they sound a little bit like almost all of them. (The band released a free, downloadable mix-tape ahead of their last album that gives you an idea of how diverse their influences are.) White Denim’s M.O. is rooted in noisy, guitar-based rock. But within that incredibly broad category, they hit just about every sub-genre. They hammer away at extended synchronized riffs that evoke 1970s-era progressive rock. They glide through breathless, jazzy interludes that would be at home on “The Last Tango in Paris” soundtrack. They strum rootsy ballads that would make Hank Williams proud. And they grind out thumping, bluesy tunes that would fit perfectly in the Black Keys‘ catalog. Some of their arrangements bring groovy disco to mind, while other soulful moments are as sweet as Smokey Robinson.
Such a wide-ranging mashup would be a ginormous mess if not for White Denim’s mind-blowing musicianship. Guitarists James Petralli and Austin Jenkins, bassist Steven Terebecki, and drummer Joshua Block work together in furious harmony, delivering tunes that are as loud as Nirvana, as precise as James Brown. It should be physically impossible for music this ear-splitting, hard-driving, and dizzying to also be so tight and pure and true. But on Monday night, the band earned more than a few new devotees. If you’re looking to bliss out to some Ray Lamontagne mopery, White Denim will undoubtedly (and proudly) harsh your mellow. But for those of us who crave the occasional dose of thundering ear candy turned up to 11, here’s hoping this emerging and exciting combo makes Denver a regular stop on their touring schedule.
—Photo by Jeff Panis