If you regularly trawl through the blogosphere’s columns, you are bound to have heard of White Denim. Whether you actually took pains to read the entries filled with superlatives and ridiculous mind associations is another matter. Following their performance at this year’s SXSW, this Austin band’s fame has spilled over to the mainstream, reaching the ears of Rolling Stone, the NME, and the average Tube commuter on their journey to work.
It was there that I finally gave in and surrendered to the urge of checking out for myself what the hype was about. White Denim happened to be playing the following night in an unusual London venue, the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, making the offer of a musical night out all the more irresistible.
The crowd in itself was a pleaser, a mix of ageing businessmen juggling outsized rented bowling shoes, undone braces and one drink too many, lesbians so young they turned out to be glabrous boys, kids lip-synching to Foals on the stereo and the obligatory set of self-appointed girls hovering round the stage with overpriced cameras.
While the middle band was mincing away their insufferable pretentiousness on stage, I caught from the corner of my eye a kid shyly cutting his way through the crowd, armed with a bass and a set of wires. Wearing a clean-cut shirt and glasses, hunched and hushed, he sat next to me, quietly waiting for his turn with his hands on his lap. I struggled to suppress a smile, knowing from experience that it is the most unassuming kids who turn out to be the most outrageous and I just couldn’t wait to see that particular one bloom on stage.
Without fail he eventually walked into the limelight, followed by drummer Josh Block and guitarist/singer extraordinaire James Petralli. Well, that was it then. Unimpressed by their recorded material on MySpace, I was about to soar or crash from the White Denim hype.
The first impressions liken those experienced during or after a crash: a loud, pulsating noise, disappearance and loss of usual reference points; bodies jerking; electricity.
Then things come in focus: loud still. Big sound. Boys dancing. All the boys dancing. Yes, even the English ones, the London ones, bodies moving. I get it: White Denim are boys’ toys in the guise of a band. Big guitar, rolling bass, as desirable and attractive as flat screens, video games and iPhones. I am not a boy. I watch. I listen.
Then I start to hear. And a stream of names float my way: Deep Purple, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix. And I check myself: how come I haven’t run a mile? Usually these names conjure images of Hard Rock Café inc. entertainment, Walkabout cover bands, Lenny Kravitz hair-banging, endless shows on French television about how the old times were so much better than now, ‘dem young kids they know nuffin’. Well Papy let me tell you, box the Viagra, you’ve just done a trip in time. And the kids who missed it all, they can experience it for one night only. No fake, no pretense, just the real thing, the raw energy, the mad energy. One look at James Petralli and you’re there: true, the beard gives him a touch of Clapton, but the four limbs shaking uncontrollably, the hair straightened by electricity and sweat, the refreshing lack of sartorial nostalgia, the wah-wah effect which doesn’t even bring a sneer on your face, it is all his, and it is now.
Then look back at the kid on bass, Steve Terebecki. Yes, that’s his name. Look at him for god’s sake: dancing and smiling like he is karaokeing on his parents’ bed, except he is facing a crowd of trendy fuckers. Listen to the bass switching from punk to overdrive, lifting him on a phat funk elephant ride. See him bend backwards and grab the mike singing about nipples when he’s only just wiped the milk from his upper lip.
Look at the Indian deity drummer, four-armed and conjuring the spirit of Ubuntu banging skins and cymbals.
See them beam, hang on each other’s nods, working out their telepathic powers to synchronise a sudden shift and counterpoint. Picture them five years from now and you know they will still be going. There is enough variety, cohesion and dexterity to take them into the next decade. Smile uncontrollably one last time and it’s over.
So there you think, that is what the White Denim hype is about. Musicians pulling mad hat-tricks, boys pointing and whoahing in awe, psychedelic smiles, a rare sense of joy and community. Yes, that is it, and you call it a truly unique live experience.
White Denim played at La Maroquinerie, Paris on Monday 7th April.
Read also: MOKB about White Denim’s performance at SXSW