A decade into their career, the two founding members of Austin, Texas-based White Denim — singer/guitarist James Petralli and bassist Steven Terebecki — sit on a body of work that can be variously described as nothing short of eclectic. Their six albums have brought waves of critical acclaim and positive attention. Their frenetic and inspired live shows have brought absolute giddy proclamations from fans and journalists. Phrases like “true rock and roll saviors” has been thrown around quite a bit as journalists ecstatically leave the sweaty confines of a White Denim show basking in the glow of a knockout show.
True to the craft of the trade, Petralli and Terebecki kept the band together a couple of years ago after two of their prominent members left to join Leon Bridges’ band. Instead of using the lineup shuffle to reassess or move onto other projects, they reconvened and soldiered on with 2016’s gloriously fun Stiff, an album that solidified the band’s sprawling sound and turned enough heads to allow a tune to be featured in an advertisement for Nintendo Switch.
Two years later, they’re back with Performance, a nine-track collection that was put together with drummer Conrad Choucroun and keyboardist Michael Hunter. It’s a no-frills recording that plays to the band’s strengths while reminding listeners just why they’re so damn good in the first place.
White Denim have crafted a classic sound, one that is rooted in tradition, both of the traditional rock and roll and the avant-garde varieties. They seem to not take themselves too terribly seriously though. As the press notes that accompany Performance state: “they write songs just dumb enough to drink, dance, and fight to.”
There you go, right there. Truer words have rarely been spoken of White Denim. The title track jaggedly struts along with shimmering verses that make a little more sense with each sip of Lone Star. “It Might Get Dark” oozes gritty soul that packs enough vintage swagger to resemble a lost Thin Lizzy or T. Rex track. Elsewhere, “Backseat Driver” crams more words into a compact two minutes and 45 seconds than some balladeers manage to fit into seven-minute epics. “Moves On” straddles the rarely ventured into lines between Foghat and Yes in terms of balancing power riffs and proggy syncopations. And, despite being a sprawling gem of a composition, a song called “Fine Slime” could only come from the minds of those with a confident sense of humor.
Unlike some of their past work, Performance finds the band at its’ most lean and focused. The album is a concise 33 minutes and it seems designed to be listened to while performing some task of one’s own volition. Whether that’s straight-up cardio at the gym, solitary driving on a busy highway, or serving as an early morning weekday morning wake-up call, White Denim have got your back. They’re around to give you a sturdy kick in the ass, albeit one that comes with a sly grin on the band members’ faces.
Of course, the best way to experience these songs is in a live setting. Years of studio time and a relentlessly consistent touring itinerary have turned the quartet into a fine-tuned machine. These songs will undoubtedly morph into grander beasts when unleashed onstage. They’ll stay locked in and tight when needed, yet summon enough spontaneity to fire off a 15-minute extended jam like it’s nothing. That’s what a good rock band can do. White Denim again prove that they are one of the best around.