White Denim, Cass McCombs Fitzgerald's April 5, 2014
Expectations are a tricky thing that can easily make or break any situation. In many years of showgoing I've learned that high expectations can easily spoil your day, but it's hard to have absolutely zero; especially if it's not your first time seeing a band.
So it's better to lower any expectations, and when White Denim came to Fitz Saturday night I did my best to try and forget about my previous experience with them. But this show was different. Walking up the stairs, you could feel a much different energy coursing through the room.
People were definitely in the building to have a good time. And while that might have hurt some of the show's quieter moments, when it picked up so did the moods of everyone inside.
Opener Cass McCombs was literally entrancing people from the beginning of his set. It was somewhat of an odd billing as McCombs could've easily held his own at the top by his lonesome, and the only similarity between he and White Denim were the amount of people in each band. But that didn't stop him from making a few new fans from the crowd predominately there to hear the headliners.
McCombs doesn't come around too often, and was here for the first time since a gig in Fitzgerald's smaller room more than two years ago. But he has a dedicated fan base in town, and for good reason. the Californian singer-songwriter is just really good at what he does.
While his recorded work is sometimes a bit on the slower side, McCombs' live show was an entirely different animal. Backed by a solid three-piece, including one of the most fun drummers I've seen in a while, McCombs transformed his sleepy folk tunes into downright rockers.
The art of improvisation is all but absent in the world of indie-rock, so for a group heavily in that scene to employ it in to their live show was a breath of fresh air. And while a solo act can sometimes come off as "everyone look at me," that never happened Saturday as each member had more than ample time to shine with his respective instrument.
And while I can't name his songs off like many a person in attendance, I certainly can tell you that the band put a new twist to each and every one. Even entertaining his own request, McCombs gave us an understated, yet somewhat bold cover of Hank Williams' "Lost Highway" that while unexpected, was still spot-on.
And then White Denim came to the stage, surrounded by a sea of fans. They must've arrived late because when McCombs first started there was barely a crowd, and you could tell they were WD fans because they smelled better and buttoned their collars higher.
Review continues on the next page.
The main expectation I had Saturday was that White Denim would sound and play the same as before. The first time I saw them they were only given about 40 minutes to perform, so I didn't expect them to play like they did here. I'll probably get flamed for saying this, but without question White Denim are a straight-up jam band. Ten-minute grooves, gritty vocals and improvisation for days was the last thing I expected.
If anything, I was leaning more towards the percussive indie side of things, especially since that's what I remember from their past performance, but after their two-plus hours on stage, there is no question that their style is much closer to Widespread Panic than to Arcade Fire.
Which is cool with me, but if a majority of Saturday's audience realized they were seeing a jam band rather than the hip, new thing, they'd question their music-listening habits. So here you go, White Denim fans, some news you didn't expect to hear: you like jam bands and you didn't even know it.
Now go check out Phish, moe. or Widespread Panic. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised.
But White Denim are not your typical jam band. They have this soulful, bluesy thing going on that almost reminded me of the Black Keys, but with more guitars and less of that disco thing that Danger Mouse made that band do on their last three albums.
What I really like about them was their want and need to keep playing. Even as their crowd dwindled throughout the night, they'd continue to play as if they were rocking their own garage on a Sunday afternoon. You could tell people were starting to get a bit tired, but they never stopped bobbing along to White Denim's infectious jams.
Overall it was a solid show. I think my music tastes these days lean closer to McCombs than White Denim, but both left me feeling pretty damn good inside. I know the rest of the room had a mutual perception.
Personal Bias: Improvisational music is better.
The Crowd: Swoop haircuts and cut-off shirts.
Overheard In the Crowd Something I never thought I'd hear at Fitzgerald's: "I love it when it's really crowded in this place!" I don't. At all.
Random Notebook Dump: I've finally figured out why they put the drummer in the back. It's because they steal the show if they're up front.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.