For a sold-out constituency that mixed would-be moshers with Hollywood hiperati, White Denim dashed through its 90-minute return to Los Angeles on the second of two nights at downtown’s Teragram Ballroom. Powered as though harnessed to a mustang, (or a Mustang, for that matter) the Austin quartet, plus-one for this tour, charged through a mix of mostly new tracks from its latest, Stiff, as well as some deeper cuts and a surprise show-closer. Though two years since the band was last in town, following personnel changes and a philosophical return to a once and future frenetic spirit, these Texas five were tack-sharp.
The Teragram’s a relatively fresh venue on the revitalized downtown music scene, occupying an overhauled silent movie theatre, but already has won its share of fans, bands included. Moments prior to the show, bassist Steve Terebecki commented on the energy of the previous night’s crowd, and the high fidelity of the vaulted showroom. It took only a couple of notes into the kick-off of “Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah),” with opener Sam Cohen sitting in on third guitar, to get things moving. In full support of the new album, the appropriately cerebral “Brain” and twisting, hairpin turning “Thank You,” came early and lent plenty of relief to those waiting to see if the new recruits could handle the heavy load. Handle it, they did.
Guitarist Jonathan Horne is a definition in contrast from his often stationary, straight-laced predecessor Austin Jenkins. Decked in attire appropriating funky American circa 1976, Horne plays his guitar as much as it plays him, often shuttering in a high-voltage, electro-shocked hold of fretboard gymnastics. He rarely looks to the audience, instead fixing his concentration on singer/guitarist James Petralli. Behind the drums is Jeff Olson, not only replacing the band’s founding beat-keeper in Joshua Block, but also confronting a catalog full of redlining tempos and tricky time-signature shifting.
Both performed remarkably well, even on throwbacks like “Anvil Everything” and “I Start to Run,” the latter inspiring a makeshift mosh pit, though its modest number of participants kept the oval of obtrusion more aspirational than anarchic. Aside from the intentionally restrained “(I’m the One) Big Big Fun,” most everything was fast and pushing to go faster, notably “Real Deal Momma,” “At Night In Dreams,” from 2013’s breakthrough Corsicana Lemonade, and the set finale, proto-punk “Shake, Shake, Shake.” No surprise there, but there was one lingering, as the band, led by the flugelhorn of touring keyboardist Mike St. Clair dropped a note-perfect take of Steely Dan’s “Peg” as an encore.
Maybe the future of White Denim was never in doubt for Petralli and Terebecki during the two-year hiatus from touring and recording, but the potential for success of the present, revamped line-up was, at best, a curiosity. At worst, it was a genuine concern. After a pair of capacity nights at the Teragram, there should be no more curiosity, no more concern- just joy.