Music Reviews

Live Review: White Denim + Syd Arthur, Rock City (10/10/2016)

White Denim Downtown Records Drew Anthony Smith

For all of the genres that their music is branded with, from psychedelic rock to soul, White Denim are undeniably niche. The Rock City audience was similarly specialised; consisting mostly of middle-aged adults. This hinted at the limited appeal of their eclectic sound. Although their music is impressive, I can’t blame students for not spending a rather costly £20 to see them.  

The band were supported by Canterbury four-piece Syd Arthur, who possess prestige of their own, having performed at Coachella. Nevertheless, they mooched on to the stage with the swagger of teenagers having only ever performed in their parents’ garage, and started their set without a glance in the direction of the packed venue.

“[Syd Arthur’s] brilliant use of a synthesizer gave the set a creative flair that was charming and energised the crowd.”

Despite this, I really enjoyed their set. Their lack of engagement with the crowd became endearing and worked successfully with their casual and eclectic image. The songs were fun, despite their sound having the same genre confusion as White Denim’s, and their brilliant use of a synthesizer gave the set a creative flair that was charming and energised the crowd.

The only area in which Syd Arthur’s set faltered was in the Bombay Bicycle Club-esque vocals. Not to criticise BBC, for high pitched vocals suit their music, but in the case of Syd Arthur it was far less successful, sounding almost wimpy against the heaviness of the guitars. However, I think that this vocal weakness was a quality specific to their live gigs; the high pitch of the vocal feels more effective when listened to on record.

“White Denim’s show was undoubtedly, unquestionably and overwhelmingly about the music.”

Syd Arthur were on stage for 30 minutes, before the main attraction of the night appeared for a vast hour and a half set. The length of this demonstrates their popularity with their fans. As somebody who likes but doesn’t love White Denim, I must admit that I found it a tad long.

To add, the band, while comfortable on stage, were far from talkative. Lead vocalist James Petralli attempted to crack a joke during the first half that fell hopelessly flat. His response of “Oh, it must be too early in the night for jokes” was slick and relaxed, but needless to say he didn’t attempt any other banter with the audience later on during the gig.

No, White Denim’s show was undoubtedly, unquestionably and overwhelmingly about the music. Their musical prowess was captivating to watch, in particular Steven Terebecki on bass, and most of the music was fluid and experimental as opposed to moving from one clearly defined track to the next.

Probably for this reason the crowd was mellow for most of the show, and there was an atypical sense of ‘chilling with a couple of drinks whilst listening to good music’ instead of the exhilarated excitement that you would expect at an ordinary Rock City gig.

The crowd did get going, however, during ‘Had 2 Know (Personal)’, a song from their latest album Stiff. This was the highlight of the night, striking the right balance between showcasing their unique sound and being regular enough to let loose to.

If I had to rate White Denim’s show at Rock City, I would give it a 3/5. It was a very sophisticated and accomplished set, but was so experimental that I found it difficult to remain attentive to for 90 minutes. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it in parts; some of the instrumental work was magical, whilst vocalist James Petralli’s voice had hypnotic depth.

However, I think that White Denim’s breakthrough style is so niche, and so intense, that when performing live they are only able to connect well with die-hard fans; of which I, sadly, am not one.

Kinneret Livne

Image courtesy of Sonic PR

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