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When James Petralli, Joshua Block, and Steven Terebecki brought guitarist Austin Jenkins into the band, they were onto something big. Ever since the release of their album D in 2011, White Denim have been on a steady climb to success. If you need evidence, let their two packed shows at The Sinclair do some of the talking.
Since their initial formation in 2005, the Austin-based band has been searching for a sound. White Denim is known for having unusual song structures, utilizing unexpected time and tempo, that some music critics have referred to as “schizophrenic” in the past. That’s why the genre of their music is so hard to categorize. It is a combination of indie rock and southern rock, with some going as far as calling it “punkish.” But whatever it you want to call White Denim’s genre, it’s working for them.
The Sinclair in Cambridge, which holds 525 people at maximum capacity, was sold out last night. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” one woman said as she entered the crowded room, “All I did was get a drink and now the room is full. It wasn’t full five minutes ago.” The audience consisted of mostly men and women in their twenties, but there was also a strong presence of older fans in the audience. It was clear that the appeal of White Denim was beyond age restriction. It was solely about the music.
Their new, larger audience continues to expand, which has lead the band to headline bigger venues than they ever have before. This new popularity contributed to the sound the band created with their new album, Corsicana Lemonade, which was released in October of last year. Coriscana Lemonade features much simpler notes than the likes of D. The band says this is because the complicated notes from their 2011 album weren’t filling the room of the larger venues in the way that they wanted them to. To White Denim, the consideration of space is just as important as the consideration of tempo and time that has made them stand out.
It seems that the band knew what they were talking about, because their reputation as a fantastic live band has been gaining momentum and their performance last night was no exception.
What was interesting about White Denim was their humble manner. The band walked out onstage, picked up their instruments, and started playing without saying a word to the audience. In fact, they didn’t stop playing at all for 20 minutes before they finally stopped to introduce themselves and say hello. Even this break was momentary before White Denim dove into another string of songs.
Their live show focuses mainly on the instrumental part of their music. More time is dedicated to guitar and bass than Petralli’s vocals. But this was what the fans wanted. They would cheer when Petralli sang, but when White Denim would pick up the pace of their instruments, the crowd would go wild. All of the big crowd reactions from the show came from these instrumental climaxes.
The way the band flowed from one song into the next seamlessly, strung the audience along. Sometimes, you didn’t even notice that they had started a new song until it was halfway over. At first this was frustrating, and made me think back to the “schizophrenic” description of White Denim by the critics. However, the longer you listened, the more you would become absorbed into the music. Many contemporary music acts fill their concerts with breaks for the artist or band to talk, but White Denim breaks this stereotype. Maybe that’s why they are growing in popularity. The fans of White Denim care about the music, and only the music. And because of this, The Sinclair was a sea of bobbing heads all night long. I even saw a couple of air guitars around the venue.
Not to be ignored was the opener, a Pennsylvania-based band called The Districts, who just released a new, self-titled EP at the end of January. For a group of guys who just graduated from high school last spring, their talent and songwriting skills are beyond their years. With a unique blend of rock and folk, you can’t help but draw comparisons to the likes of Alabama Shakes. Their song “Long Distance” was a crowd favorite, with the hook “is it easier?” really bringing the audience into the music.The Districts were high energy. Their constant head-banging on stage was translated into head-bobbing in the audience. As you looked around the room you could see people smile at the unexpected talent of musicians of such a young age. Many were surprised. As they made their way through their set, they slowly drew more people in and gained some new fans. The Districts will be back in Boston in May to play at Boston Calling Music Festival.
From the little interaction that White Denim had with their audience, they showed a great amount of charm. Toward the end of the show, the band tried to start their popular song “Pretty Green,” but stopped after a few seconds because not every member was in sync. “I was just about to say let’s play something we know really well… good thing I didn’t,” Petralli joked, “Well, I guess I did just say it now.” The audience chuckled before converting their laughs into screams as White Denim started playing again, this time with no mistakes.
After their US tour ends in April, White Denim is hitting Europe and the UK for a month of sold out shows, and then returning stateside to support The Arctic Monkeys on their tour, which can only continue to grow their audience. The band has found their style, and if anything was made clear by last night’s performance at The Sinclair, it is that White Denim is here to stay.