"Seeing a White Denim live show is like 'federal expressing your eyeballs (via gold private jet) to a rock-and-roll opium den in Tai Pei, and having them massaged with lighting bolts and glitter.'" - is exactly what showed up in my email Tuesday afternoon when a friend forwarded me the invite to the new residency program going on at The Mohawk here in Austin. Put on in conjunction with tastemakers Gorilla vs. Bear, The Austinist, Hot Freaks!, The Onion and KEXP Seattle (what?), two bands will be sharing residency at The Mohawk for the month of May, Peel and White Denim. Best part about it, $2.
So around 9, my buddy and I head towards Red River in hopes of a good show. White Denim has been amidst a flurry of buzz since the beginning of the year thanks in part to Gorilla vs. Bear, and a couple very strong SXSW sets. I never really jumped onto the wave because the stigma attached to white denim jeans has been tough to overcome for me; nevertheless, I was going to check it out.
Right away, disappointment upon entering - they will be playing the inside stage. Outside at Mohawk is awesome, very spacious, good sound. Inside is another story. I have seen about ten bands inside there, and absolutely none have impressed me. I don't chalk this up to the bands themselves because most I've seen before and enjoyed, rather, I attribute it to the shittiness of the sound inside. It's too small and too loud. Oh I know, too loud, I'm a Grandpa. Seriously though, it's as if the sound engineer doesn't know how to turn down volume, opting to increase levels to even out the mix. Enough ranting, the show is about to start.
Opening is local band Brazos, a group made up of members of many other acts - Tacks the Boy Disaster, Ink, The Early Tapes - all part of something called the Tonewheel Collective here in town. This was a pleasant surprise. Their sound was suited for the inside stage. Softness with a shuffle to it. Southern Rock with an ear for Golden Oldies. Brazos knew how to play in this setting, allowing their sound to get out there, but not overwhelm. They're apparently recording an EP at the moment; keep an ear out for them.
Next, White Denim. A formidable crowd had begun to gather for a Tuesday night, the buzz must have gotten 'round town. I squeezed a spot amongst a very tall woman with sunglasses the size of my fists and a short fat man in cut-off sleeves and a bandana. I was allowed only seconds to marvel at the two, as White Denim jumped onstage. Surrounded by an eardrum-shattering array of feedback, my stomach dropped at the foreboding sense of another disappointing set inside.
Once my ears lost the ability to register the high frequencies and my eyes were allowed to focus (i.e., three songs in), I found White Denim to be exactly what I imagined - loud, energetic, nerdy and happy. Forget the fact that the bassist was wearing one of the coolest X-Men t-shirts I've ever seen, wait no, don't forget it because it was awesome. The geeky enthusiasm displayed by the group almost made up for the poor sound quality. One personal favorite (and really the only recognizable tune for me) was "ShakeShakeShake," as the guitars chopped through rolling drum and bass like a kick ass updated mash of The Champs' "Tequila" and The Surfaris' "Wipe Out." In fact, if I were to actually describe White Denim's sound, it would have something to do with that 50/60's surf rock sound on speed. That, and the sort of dirty rock Eagles Of Death Metal put out. Guitar licks constantly slice through a pretty muddy bass, and the drums just roll right through the middle. Also let it be known that each of the three are shouting, at any given point in time, slightly unintelligible lyrics in a fashion that would generally annoy me, but when done with such closed-eyed, mangled-faced enthusiasm you can't help but get into it.
I left near the end, when I felt my ears couldn't take anymore, and while on my way back to the car I decided to make an exception on my view towards Mohawk's inside stage. While I must admit, the sound was still something to be desired (given the ringing in my ears this morning), I must say that White Denim pushed through problem. They certainly warrant the buzz they are creating, and to see them at a venue that can actually contain the all out blitzkrieg that I'm sure a White Denim show can be would be a treat.