“We have a string of shows in the UK this month. Come hang out with us in the following cities…” A few days ago White Denim encouraged us all through their social media to come and see them perform. Judging by the ‘Sold Out’ signs outside some of the venues on the tour and the very healthy turn out in Leeds tonight, many people have taken them up on their invitation.
Yet just last year it seemed that these shows may not even have taken place. Founding member Josh Block and the band’s second guitarist Austin Jenkins left. White Denim’s frontman James Petralli released his debut solo album. The future looked uncertain as the Texan outfit appeared to be teetering on the verge of total collapse.
But Petralli and original bass guitarist Steve Terebecki then recruited Jonathan Horne and Jeffrey Olson to the fold and earlier this year this new incarnation of the band produced Stiff, the seventh full-length album to be released under the White Denim name. The change in personnel also marked a shift in style from their hitherto rather loose interpretation of classic southern rock to something that was altogether more funky and soulful.
And it is to Stiff that they go tonight in joyful spades as if to affirm these distinctions. ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)’ hits the dancefloor early doors as James Petralli rather needlessly urges everyone to “Be yourself and try to have a good time”. And while the studio recording of ‘There’s A Brain In My Head’ may not have been remotely out of place at the funkier end of Beck’s Odelay spectrum, in concert it is unfurled as some full-throttled rocker.
With Horne on keyboards and the absence of a second guitar, those perennial comparisons to The Allman Brothers Band are somewhat diluted but the influence of the ‘70s (think here of the more subtle R&B rhythms of early Little Feat or even some of the jazzier nuances of a similar period Steely Dan) is never that far away and the band have not lost any of their charming capacity to just wig out as and when the mood takes. Petralli in particular blasts off at times in dizzying guitar spirals before eventually coming back into the earth’s gravity.
Yet it is the more reflective moments of ‘Thank You’ and ‘Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)’ where White Denim achieve their greatest emotional impact. Here Petralli operates at the top end of his vocal register, his blissful falsetto highlighting the songs’ glorious soulful heart. Far from having nearly disappeared without a trace, White Denim may just now be standing right on the edge of something very big indeed.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE