The first time I came across this band was at the Glastonbury festival when I opted to go and see the 83 year old Tony Benn speaking in the Leftfield in preference to seeing White Denim play on the Park stage. Benn was as inspirational as he always is, so even the reports that I had missed something special, including probably the best drummer at the festival, didn't make me feel terribly much regret about my decision. I did, however, make a mental note to check out the band at the first possible opportunity. That opportunity came somewhat earlier than I had been expecting when I saw that the band were playing one of the smallest of Nottingham's main venues exactly a week after I returned from Glastonbury. Luckily they had tickets left, but even more luckily, Mike was on review duties for the Evening Post and he was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to be his "plus one" for the evening. I was familiar with the singles "Let's Talk About It" and "All You Really Have to Do" from airplay on Zane Lowe's show on Radio 1, but in preparation for the gig, I made sure that I downloaded the album before I left Nottingham for London and Saturday's Iron Maiden gig.
I liked it. As I listened to it on the tube on the way back from Twickenham on Saturday night, I was able to pick out influences from the Small Faces and White Album, "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" era Paul McCartney through to the Velvet Underground. It was good, honest rock... but thirteen tracks, even on a relatively short album, seemed to be enough. Even so, I was still looking forward to the gig. Apparently the band were the talk of the SXSW festival and it seemed like a great opportunity to see a band on the cusp of a major breakthrough in a relatively tiny venue. I had a nice dinner with Sarah and Hen and then headed over to meet up with Mike at the Social for a drink before heading upstairs for the band. They weren't due on until 22:15, so we settled in for a good chat. After a little while, (and ahead of schedule) we were drawn upstairs by the sound of thunder from the stage, and arrived just in time to see the band ripping their way through their most famous song, "All You Really Have to Do".
One thing was immediately obvious: good though the record is, White Denim from Austin, Texas are a band that were made to be seen performing live. Not to put too fine a point on it, they rock. They're only a three-piece, but they make a tremendous amount of noise. Centre stage was dominated by a modest drumkit, about 10% the size of the one I had seen Nico McBrain using for Iron Maiden at Twickenham on Saturday night, but played with ferocity and with real brio, it made at least as much noise and was a much more integral part of the sound of the band. The other two members of the trio huddled around the kit and took their cue from their sensational drummer. The two-hundred or so people in the room just hung on for dear life.
They were ace.
They band were onstage for just about 45 minutes, and presumably they played their way through the album, although it was a bit hard to tell as much of it was unrecognisable from the recorded versions. In a good way. Not for this band a carbon copy recital of their recordings. Oh no. Keeping close eye-contact with each other, the band used the songs as jumping off points for rocking improvisations around the songs. I could still hear a touch of the rockier McCartney in there, but the obvious comparison is with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. When they record their next album, this band really have got to find themselves a producer who can bottle the thunder of their live show and put it onto the record - something their last producer has definitely failed to achieve. This show was an absolute riot, with the band clearly having at least as much fun simply hanging out together and playing their music as those of us in the crowd were to be hearing them play. I can't think of the last time that I went to a gig that was this vibrant.... the simple, transcendent power of rock music lifted me up and made me grin like a lunatic. Having passed up the cornucopia on offer at Twickenham on Saturday, I even surprised myself tonight and bought a t-shirt. They really were that good.
They're a good band but a sensational live act. Catch them if you can - they deserve to be massive.