Photos by Sasha Geffen

Back in 2008, when Austin, TX’s White Denim was just a trio, they were more of a ramshackle garage rock band. Sure, their songs was fresh, fun, and edgy but from then they managed to mature and tighten up. In 2010, they brought on lead guitarist Austin Jenkins and released Last Days Of Summer, a quirky departure showcasing frontman James Petralli’s burgeoning ear for soulfully eccentric pop songwriting. Following that was the psychedelic daze of 2011’s D and finally, the bluesy-southern rock of last year’s Corsicana Lemonade. With each release, they grew up without losing their edge—mellowed but honed their songwriting chops.

With their wild, rollicking concert Thursday night at Chicago’s Metro, it’s not just their studio albums that have improved—their already-exceptional live show sounded better than ever. For one, the members of White Denim are really, really good at their instruments; Petralli and Jenkin’s guitar theatrics matched with bassist Steve Terebecki and drummer Josh Block’s frantic and pounding rhythm section make for one the more formidable combinations in the genre. Back when I caught them two years earlier at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall, I marveled at how in-sync they were, but now their solos are cleaner, transitions more fluid, and their proclivity to jam never feels too loose or self-indulgent.

Opening the show were the Pennsylvania-based rockers The Districts. For a first act, they were a confident and assured live band that played with tangible passion and intensity. They lacked the awkwardness and self-doubt that often plagues lesser-known openers, instead they emphatically played their roots-inflected rock that sometimes even harkened back to guitar-heavy ‘90s alternative jams like Built To Spill. Playing songs off their recent self-titled EP, they were led by frontman Rob Grote’s emotive howls. Admittedly, I hadn’t really listened to this band before the show but, by the time they had finished their first song they won me—and basically the rest of the audience over. This is how opening bands should be.



White Denim’s set started with “Pretty Green”, the crunchy, Jeff Tweedy-produced lead single off of Corsicana Lemonade. From then, it was a survey of their official studio lengths (that meant no cuts off the hidden gem Last Days Of Summer) with the band mainly drawing from D and their latest offering. With “Come Back” the band were at their most funky. “Regina Holding Hands” and “Street Joy” had Petralli showcasing his soulful croon. On “I Start To Run” and “A Place To Start”, he rearranged those tracks’ vocal parts giving it a fresh live context. Other highlights included the churning and ferocious “At Night In Dreams” and the understated D-closer “Keys”.

In fact, most of their material was rearranged and given extended jams. These jams made the transitions between songs seamless. Though they often change up their setlist, these new compositions made the entire show feel like one long song—in a good way. With all those added solos and breakdowns, the band would rarely take a break to stop playing. Nimbly harmonizing and jumping off each other, Petralli and Jenkins traded solos throughout the set. Their constant dueling proved to be refreshing, because guitar solos aren’t necessarily as in-vogue as they used to be. But judging by the audience, they couldn’t get enough of them. With the exception for their anthemic call-and-response first single “Shake Shake Shake”, perhaps the biggest audience applause came from D instrumental “At The Farm”. If anything, White Denim proved to the near-sold out crowd that guitar music was never really stale in the first place.

Pretty Green
Corsicana Lemonade
River To Consider
Come Back
At The Farm
A Place To Start
Anvil Everything
I Changed My Mind
I Start To Run
Regina Holding Hands
Distant Relative Salute
It’s Him
At Night In Dreams
Mirrored & Reversed
Bess St
Shake Shake Shake
Limited By Stature
Cheer Up/ Blues Ending
Street Joy
Radio Milk How Can You Stand It
All You Really Have To Do
Mess Your Hair Up