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Outside Neumos on a typically misty Seattle night, White Denim’s James Petralli pulls on his Camel, as a few friends and I laugh with him about only 10 pre-sale tickets having been sold for his band’s show with fellow Austin group Brazos, earlier that evening. “We have a really hard time in Seattle,” Petralli said, before opining on their relative success in Europe, in front of kids for whom American music may still be somewhat exotic and for whom loud, fast rock music is truly appreciated when it’s played by visiting Americans, lending a kind of red-blooded authenticity to that tremendous clamor, or clamour, as the case may be.

Earlier, Neumos was in full poor-turnout mode; the balcony was closed and red curtains hung from the walls opposite the stage and in the middle of the room, effectively cutting it in half. Only a handful of folks saw Brazos’s Martin Crane take the stage alone to sing their melancholy “Downtown Boys” with his circular arpeggio on guitar his only accompaniment. As he ended his meditation on parking garages and classic cars, feedback introduced his other bandmates and what was an intimate showcase of heart-on-sleeve wistfulness became largely generic, melodic indie rock; the only thing Brazos share with White Denim, whose bassist, Steve Terebecki, meanwhile manned the merch table, is a hip hometown.

So while the rest of music-loving Seattle paid to see Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard lament the loss of Kerouac’s America, appreciated the meta-pop of Har Mar Superstar or maybe just stayed in with their Netflix, a small crowd at Neumos had their minds broken as Petralli, with an Epiphone semi-hollowbody plugged into a Vox, began “Heart From Us All,” his finger-picked arpeggios a wash of bright overdrive that couldn’t hold back the eventual thunder of drummer Josh Block and Terebecki’s relentless punishment of a black Rickenbacker.

Some of the appeal of last year’s Fits was its appetite for varied sonic textures; its grooves explored dubbed-out organ, mellow acoustic guitar and off-the-wall percussion, so I was especially curious of White Denim’s live-to-record translation. As they dealt only in drums-vocals-bass-guitar, Petralli’s guitar seemed to pick up the slack. Outfitted with reverb effects that seemed to last even after he moved three parts further into the song, his frenetic pickless (!) riffing wouldn’t stay in one place. And this is to be emphasized- these boys tore threw their songs as though they couldn’t get them out fast enough. Were this not enough to make you break a sweat just watching, White Denim took only one mid-set break and another before the encore.

What they do, then, is absolutely destroy their recorded material onstage, piecing it back together at a speed so high that stopping to think about “Mirrored and Reversed” blending into “Shake Shake Shake” into “Darksided Computer Mouth” into “Mess Your Hair Up” is completely irrational. Live, White Denim have realized that incredible, incredibly fine line between gonzo verve and measured precision. Any number of comparisons to other bands could be made, yet they’d only be in reference to certain feels (Zeppelin’s trust in the riff, Devo’s peculiar rhythm) and ultimately detract from the experience of seeing this band- who has made the power trio sound fresh– working, sweating and making incredible guitar faces. Seattle’s loss is most definitely our gain.

[Photos:Lordscience]

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