White Denim Gets Dirty at the Biltmore

Rock n’ roll is, at its heart, not civilized. It is primitive and visceral, recalling its roots in African tribal music. Ironically, it is, and has been for a long time, white middle-class kids’ music. It’s quite the yin-yang scenario: seemingly ironic, yet perfectly fitting when you think about it.

The local openers, The Ford Pier Vengeance Trio, displayed this tension in some interesting ways. Early (that is, pre-Beatles) rock n’ roll was absolutely a form of dance music, and the raucous energy emanating from the stage definitely reflected that primitive rock physicality. Guitarist and lead singer Ford Pier’s impassioned showmanship displayed the kind of personality and emotion that is difficult to express in words.

At the same time, the more “middle class” intellectual side was definitely there. Ford has been at this for some time, having started his music career back in the 90s. There’s a braininess to his songwriting, an edgy post-punk poetic side which I found really enjoyable. It was unfortunate that the crowd didn’t really respond much, except for one or two particularly enthusiastic dancers. Overall I was impressed with the Trio’s inventiveness and passion, and I hope to see more of Ford in the future.

The headlining act, Austin, Texas’ White Denim, got more of a response. The balance of primitive passion and middle-class sensibility were balanced slightly differently here. While not possessed of the same punky attitude as the openers, White Denim brought a spirit of unpretentious fun to the night. The groove was strong and moving, and the band played with engaging abandon. This is the kind of hard, dirty dance music that rock is all about.

What was pleasantly surprising was the high level of musicianship they all displayed. Twin guitarists John Petralli and Austin Jenkins both took their solos with tremendous skill and taste, reflecting training and hard work to create the music they love. They know what they’re doing on their instruments, and they use that knowledge to masterfully excite and entertain the audience.

There was not a great deal of variety in their set, though: most of the songs had similar tempos and dynamics. Even if I listened to the records, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which songs they played live. Hardly the point, I suppose. It’s rock n’ roll, after all, and White Denim rocked hard and properly earn the dance floor packed with adoring fans.