White Denim at The Teragram Ballroom
photo by Larson Sutton
“Are those positive heckles?” White Denim’s James Petralli asked the audience stuffed into the Teragram. “I only want positive heckles.” The shouts of song requests that flew around the room throughout the 95-minute sizzler of a set meant at least one thing: Los Angeles was glad to have White Denim back. It was night three of a short run of dates out West, and given both the pandemic-induced time away and the choices available from the now-vast catalog of tunes the Austin, Texas group has accumulated over its 15 years together, who could blame the SoCal crowd for its spirited lack of decorum.
Petralli took the distraction in typical stride. With bassist Steve Terebecki, the two are the cemented foundation of a band whose own turnstile was again in motion; the Teragram stop accentuating the new-look Denim- with Cat Clemons on guitar and Matt Young on drums joining Michael Hunter on keyboards- and a return to the two-guitar wrecking ball of its nuclear prog-rock inclinations. Not since former guitarist Austin Jenkins left in 2015 to strum for Leon Bridges has White Denim had such twin-axe thrust. Not only was Clemons ideally cast as player- returning to glory the cuts in the set from D and Corsicana Lemonade that Jenkins originally complemented so well- but Clemons’ shirt declaring himself a “dirty little shrimpy boy” slid perfectly into White Denim’s tongue-firmly-in-cheek aesthetic. Being a deft and fluid ace on guitar, as well, didn’t hurt. Young and Hunter, too, were top-shelf, with Young’s needle-threading drumwork keeping the pace and the peace behind this frontline of thunderballs.
Tempos on the burners revved early and often, churning out the swirling goodness of “Anvil Everything” and a stampeding “At The Farm” with precise doses of aggression and refinement, only to decay beautifully into the wistful blue of “Street Joy” or the pysch-soul of “Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love).” Unlikely “Had To Know (Personal)” could have been driven any faster and manage to stay upright. Dense and impenetrable, the shuffles of “At Night In Dreams” or “Pretty Green,” crushed like marauders as Petralli’s shredding, commanding vocal rose from the dust, or seduced slickly through “Moves On,” that again had the rpms pushing into the red.
For a final encore, Petralli ceded his guitar to opener Nick Perri on another sprinter, “Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah),” to close out the breathless run. Perhaps not since Jenkins’ exodus has White Denim unleashed so much horsepower onstage. It was raucous and looser than before, for sure; less extended segues and medleys and more space and banter between songs, yet just as much a sonic pillage. Time will tell if White Denim remains a quintet, and does so with these particular five. Hard to imagine if it does that the heckles could be anything but positive.