White Denim, Audio, Brighton
Friday 04 July 2008
"More cowbell!" cries a man in a severe state of excitement. It's not necessarily what you expect to hear at a gig from one of the most hotly tipped garage rock bands of the year, but then White Denim don't do things by the book.
The Texas three-piece – who are, incidentally, aware of the ghastliness of their name – arrive on our shores heavy with expectation. They were declared the next big thing at the South By Southwest festival in their home town of Austin, and their debut album, Workout Holiday, has been ecstatically received, a remarkable achievement given their wilful attempts to mess with our notions of what constitutes modern rock. Their aim, it seems, is to reinvent the possibilities of the traditional lineup of guitar, bass and drums, reducing them to their constituent parts before refashioning them to create something entirely new.
Singer and guitarist James Petralli turns into a grinning, gurning lunatic on stage, with a frightening feral wail. Betraying his jazz training with his syncopated clatter, drummer Josh Block periodically leaps from his seat; bassist Steve Terebecki is fresh-faced, hyperactive, radiating charm without saying a word.
Countless bands flit through the mind, from Black Flag, MC5, Wire and Devo to The Hives and The White Stripes – White Denim are considerably broader than the garage-rock tag that has been hung on them. There are elements of punk, funk, jazz and prog rock all clamouring to get out underneath the layers of distorted noise and, yes, cowbells.
Songs that seem fully formed suddenly spiral into improvised dissonance. In between songs, the band members ask each other how they're doing, and gee each other on like new arrivals at an AA meeting.
They are haphazard, chaotic; they sound as if they are making it up as they go. They are also gloriously contrary. Anyone here on the strength of their recent single, "Let's Talk About It," would be forgiven for asking for their money back. Sure, they play it, but it's rendered barely recognisable amid the fluctuating time signatures and howled vocals.
For that matter, anyone hoping for anything as conventional as melody or a middle eight will be disappointed. Raw and unkempt, White Denim are by no means a finished article but they have moments of unalloyed brilliance. More importantly, they're like nothing else out there, which in these derivative times can only be a good thing.
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