Allah-Las being all vintage and stuff.
So I headed over to Echo Park, got lost like I always do, found a cool and clean looking sweater on the sidewalk, deemed it mine, and snaked into the dark club. Opening band Allah-Las was setting up and sound-checking, and I scoped out the somewhat sparse crowd. The set began and the crowd filled in and the boys on stage crooned and squinted. The comparisons that bounced around in my head ranged from a modern-day take on O Brother Where Art Thou to a 60s version of My Morning Jacket to Bob Dylan hopped up on melody to early, scratchy Beatles recordings. The band, delicately and accidentally adorably lined up at the front of the stage unintentionally obscuring their beanie-d and bearded drummer (Steve Zissou?). Their sound was a wonderful amalgam of old and new, of prep and grunge, of folk and rock and pop. At times, bassist Spencer Dunham was moving—a mixture between a little sway and a careful step—like he was part of the backup band in Hairspray (I’m sure the cute combed hair, polyester pants, and collared shirt didn’t hurt either). In contrast, lead singer and guitarist Miles Michaud looked and sounded like a young, fuller Dylan thanks to a rocky, velvet voice emerging from beneath his mop of curls. The band’s relative complacency—is that a euphemism for lack of energy?—was oddly fitting. To see them jumping around on stage wouldn’t have fit their vintage sound. However, there was a line of people grooving right in front of the stage—like, really grooving—eyes closed, arms flailing, hips twisting—am I in an Austin Powers movie minus the go-go dresses? It was funny to see the band watch them and smile, and they actually moved quite mesmerizingly (even you, denim-jacketed-ironically-mustached-scrawny-hipster man). So, thanks to faintly echo-y vocals, prominent, plucky basslines, and hip-moving rhythms, I sufficiently enjoyed both Allah-Las’ set and my trip to the 60s.
White Denim took the stage to set up before a rowdy, enthusiastic, and actually awesome crowd. They’re playing strings, hitting drums, looking at the sound guy in the back, gesturing higher or lower while the crowd chats aimlessly until we are all snapped to attention as White Denim launches into the first song without skipping a beat.
Showing off their mad skills.
Immediately, I was reminded of the raw freaking talent possessed by this band: each and every member is ill. Do you hear me? ILL. Bassist Steve Terebecki? Crazy. Guitarist Austin Jenkins? Nuts. Singer/guitarist Jim Petralli? Damn. Drummer Josh Block? No words. As a whole? Mad skills, super sick, holy crap, axe battling, Travis Barker drum solo-ing, Tom Morello finger madness-ing ILL. Did none of that make sense grammatically and/or structurally? GOOD. Because these guys are ridiculous, and all the senses cannot made be. From that moment on, every second was filled with enlivening, intoxicating jam seshes, reeling vocals, off-beat drum hits, and heart-grabbing tempo and riffs. I attempted to write down each song as it was played, but so often they schmoozed into another track that I could hardly keep up, though I was somewhat certain they were more or less playing down the track list from D, but there were definite variations. Plus, I was in total awe the whole time, which made note-taking somewhat difficult.
Anyways, individual tracks are not the point of White Denim. Don’t get me wrong, they have some great stand-outs, but this band is about a groove, a feel, a sick display of flawless technique, and about throwing time signatures and usual song structures out the boring window. Just as your moving to one beat, they change is up with a completely different tempo that’s equally as awesome. Then they’ll make some sort of concoction of both the tempos, until you’re jutting your shoulders and rib cage around, a physical slave to their unpredictable groove.
Lead singer/guitarist Jim Petralli craning behind the mic.
So, in my attempts to write down tracks, I caught a couple. They opened with “It’s Him!”, the first track off of D. They jammed and grooved and eventually melded into “Burnished” and “At the Farm” (the latter being a particularly enticing instrumental). They continued with “Street Joy”, a distinctly slower song with prompted the guys to move around stage in a hilariously exaggerated slow-mo (Intentional? Who knows.), and flitted into “Anvil Everything”, which begins with an awesome sort of sparkly running sound. They then jumped the track list and cranked out a ridiculously fun “Bess St.”, only to continue the energy with “Shake Shake Shake” off their 2008 Workout Holiday LP. They went back to D to play the Latin-infused “River to Consider”. From there, they played “Is and Is and Is” (after which they paused to acknowledge a dude passed out on the front of the stage, to which Petralli goes “I don’t know, it’s kind of entertaining…”), “I Start to Run” from 2009’s Fits (arguably the catchiest song ever), “Drug” (with a little disco ball action to set the mood), and “Tony Fatti” from 2010’s Last Day of Summer, among others.
They were an amazing group to watch, with each member obliviously parading their own antics (including really ridiculous faces): Petralli mouths inaudible words to himself, contorts his face in the strangest ways, and has tendencies to fall to his knees in fits of stringed passion as he jams; Jenkins bites his lower lip and slowly bobs his head as he clutches his guitar, often wearing the most emotion-ridden expressions, like he’s repeatedly watching the birth of his first-born child (too far?); Terebecki gazes at the crowd complacently with his young face, as if saying, “What? Oh, I’m playing—I mean, owning—the bass right now? Ain’t no thang.”—only occasionally showing any sign of effort; and Block’s mouth gapes when he emerges from the shadows and reveals himself as more than just a blur of arms.
From a different angle. Artsy, I know.
The band finished with a super-mega-new song, not even on D, and, by that point, Petralli was drenched in sweat and was so into it that he rested his head against the wall and played and played—a strangely intimate moment to witness. For their encore, they played a jammed out extended version of “Mess Your Hair Up” from Workout Holiday that got kicked off by an intense miniature drum solo. After that, they hung around and talked to fans and signed posters. I may or may not have purchased various items (Maybe I’m writing this article in my new White Denim shirt while listening to my new White Denim vinyl? Who knows?) and hung around giddily to get their signatures and introduce myself. Every single member was awesomely nice, happy to chat, and definitely grateful, and meeting them was a great closing to an extraordinary Wednesday night.
Catch White Denim's next show (with Fake Your Own Death and Angel Island) tonight in San Francisco, CA at Bottom of the Hill at 9pm. Tickets are $13, 21+
Also, be sure to see White Denim at Sasquatch! this year!
Catch Allah-Las next tonight at Harvard and Stone in Los Angeles, CA.