Photo by Marc Millman
I’ll admit right off the bat that I went into White Denim’s show at Brooklyn Bowl, the first of a two night run, with a bit of skepticism. This was the first time I would be seeing the band since the departure of drummer Joshua Block and guitarist Austin Jenkins, two members who I had long felt took White Denim from being good to being exceptional, and I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy the new lineup, especially given my lukewarm reaction to their latest album, 2016’s Stiff. Most of my fears evaporated the moment they started playing. Song after song, they showed that while they’re certainly not the same band they were, the lineup changes have done nothing to slow them down.
They opened the set with a smoking rendition of “Pretty Green,” which quickly set them into their trademark balance of garage rock-grit and nimble psychedelic melodies, it also got the crowd singing along right from the start. They kept things rolling by bringing out opener Sam Cohen to join them on guitar for the funky Stiff track “Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah).” Where the studio version suffers from what feels like an attempt to mimic the sonics of classic soul records, the song opened up on the Brooklyn Bowl stage, especially with the aid of Cohen. The band continued to hop around throughout their catalog, going all the way back to their 2007 debut EP Let’s Talk About It with standout performances of that record’s title track along with the 2009 instrumental “Sex Prayer” and “Thank You,” another tune off of Stiff.
It was in the songs from D, the 2011 album that is arguably the best of White Denim’s career, that most acutely felt the lineup changes. It was on that album that the guitar work of frontman James Petralli and Jenkins seemed to most fully sync up, and the rhythm section of Steve Terebecki and Block was simultaneously at its most bombastic and nuanced. Though he doesn’t bring the jazz influence that Block did, he showed no hesitation following along at every turn, and his constant enthusiasm throughout the set made him a thrill to watch. Likely keenly aware of the impact of Jenkins’ departure, especially without a replacement guitarist on stage, Petralli also seemed to step up his game on those songs in particular, attempting to fill the space of guitars and most often succeeding. As such, the performance of “At the Farm” grew into a transcendental psychedelic explosion that sent a few in the crowd into a complete frenzy and “River to Consider” took the Latin influence of the studio version and transformed it into a reverb-and-effects-laden mind fuck of a song.
The band brought Sam Cohen back to the stage for a beautiful set-closing cover of Roxy Music’s “2 H.B.” that saw him lock in seamlessly with the band for a series of escalating solos between him and Petralli that seemed a proper finish for a show that could be used at proof as to why the guitar is still relevant. Afterwards the band returned to the stage for a blistering two-fer of “Limited by Stature’’’s manic psychedelic stomp and the off-kilter garage rock of early track “I Can Tell.” White Denim are far from being a done thing, and appear to just be starting up on their second (third?) wind. If, like me, the new album or the lineup change were keeping you from seeing them, I urge you to reconsider.