Review by Joel Reed
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
All this time I’ve been trying to figure out how White Denim and the Gaslight Anthem ended up on Upstate Concert Hall’s stage on the same night. Sure, they’re both hard-rocking bands with growing followings (with the Gaslight Anthem’s growing larger, faster), but you could say that about lots of bands. I just typed in the right combination of words to find my answer: they have the same booking agent. No doubt he was filling holes in schedules, perhaps hoping to turn followers of one into new fans of the other.
That might be hard to pull off though, as the band’s differences far outshined their common business arrangements. In the evening’s opening set White Denim challenged the audience to keep up with their fast playing, dense lyrics and rapid time-signature shifts, while they demonstrated a broad sweep of influences from southern rock to prog, the Grateful Dead to Led Zeppelin, with some quirky regional underground and punk thrown in.
Their set was mostly drawn from their two most recent albums, with a couple of numbers pulled up from their earlier, more raucous work. In previous exposure to White Denim I’ve found them to be a band that knows a good riff when it finds one, though it will unfortunately stay parked on that riff, repeating it quickly, precisely, and at times in a showy twin-lead harmony, but not extending from it. Not so this time – there was an improvisational quality to their playing that stretched tantalizingly from their clever hooks to something more unpredictable and risky.
Physically energetic, technically complicated and thoughtful all at the same time, White Denim offered a challenging combination for a suburban rock club, but that’s just what the part of the audience that came to see them were looking for. Though singer-guitarist James Petralli put his guitar out of commission by busting at least four strings in an extended freak-out at the end of their last number, some in the audience took up a chant of “THREE MORE SONGS!” as the band started breaking down their gear to make way for the Gaslight Anthem’s roadies.
I found The Gaslight Anthem challenging in a very different way: they challenged me to stay awake. But I was the outlier in a large and enthusiastic crowd. From the very first song it was clear that each one of the mostly male, mostly pumped-up concert-goers knew the words to every song, and they were going to accompany Brian Fallon, the band’s lead singer, throughout the set. With the second song, when most of the audience began punctuating the lyrics with their upraised index fingers, it struck me: of course, every song’s an anthem – immediately accessible and emotional lyrics, songs based on a few unvarying power chords. This is a band made for the stadium and a sea of tiny waving flames flicked from Bic lighters.
But they weren’t playing a stadium – this was a club show. One of guys in the audience told me that he’d just seen the Gaslight Anthem play to 10,000 people in NYC, and he was excited to see them here. He’d never heard of White Denim, but maybe their agent was on to something after all; when I asked him during the break between acts what he thought of the opener, he flashed a big thumbs up and shouted, “I’m a fan now!”
NOTE: White Denim will be making another sweep through Nippertown when they step into the headlining slot at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton at 8:30pm on Monday, September 8. Clear Plastic Masks open the show, and tickets are $15 in advance; $18 at the door.