It’s a warm and sticky night in central Leeds. All the teenagers and hipsters are tucked up in bed with a glass of milk and a copy of Vice magazine when suddenly, somewhere out in the suburbs, something stirs. Bespectacled, middle-aged men leave their children with babysitters and slowly emerge from their homes. They wend their way into the centre of town in droves, like a river – if a river wore checked shirts, read a broadsheet newspaper and worked in IT. Tonight they come to the Cockpit for one reason only – to worship at the altar of rock. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Cult of White Denim.
The Texan’s fourth studio album “D” has had praised heaped upon it by the serious music press, and you can tell by which magazines have been championing them simply by looking at the crowd. This is grown-up music for people who (however vaguely) remember the days before punk, when musicians were wizards who took you on mystic, impossible journeys through mind-bending time signatures and labyrinthine noodles. The new record is a nostalgic dream, but, as the full house proves, it’s the live show where the White Denim mojo starts really working.
The crowd whoops as the band take to the stage. The buzz and anticipation makes tonight’s gig seem more like an arena show than the sweaty old Cockpit (which is already starting to feel like a baked bean tin we’re all being slowly cooked in). However, this is music that works best in the warm. The set quickly explodes into its first blistering workout, James Petralli’s vocals soaring high over complex, muscular riffs that writhe and thrash like rattlesnakes in the sweltering heat.
White Denim don’t say a lot, but there’s no need for banter when the crowd are feeding off a band to this degree. The masses are hypnotised by the psychedelic rollercoaster ride, dancing, swaying and finger pointing – you’d be forgiven for thinking they hadn’t left the house since 1998. It’s a trance-like, religious experience, at one point the man standing next to me starts convulsing as if he’s just put his finger into the mains. Turns out it’s just his dance style.
The set feels one long, very accomplished jam, yet it’s dynamic enough to never get boring, swinging from a burnt out desert blues to mathy jazz and back to greasy garage rock. The recent addition of second guitarist Austin Jenkins adds ballast to their groove, and makes for impressively intricate dual lead guitar in the breakdowns. His twisted, shit-eating grin simply confirms what it looks like from the floor – that playing this sort of grown-up, serious music is just as much fun to play as it is for us to listen to. As the encore draws to a close with a final flourish, the crowd leaves sweaty but jubilant – our faces both literally and metaphorically melted.