Striding into the Anson Rooms tonight for the first time since accidentally occupying it during the student protests of 2010 (long story), it strikes me once again how odd a venue it actually is. It's a thin, long hall in the University of Bristol Students Union building that feels more like an old school assembly hall than a live music venue. It doesn't exactly scream 'character', but still, playing here this evening are Texan rockers White Denim, whose 2013 album Corsicana Lemonade ranked as one of the best released last year, and certainly the strongest in their back catalogue. Led by The Black Keys-esque single "Pretty Green", and backed by virtuoso guitar playing and expert songwriting throughout, there's an expectant atmosphere to see if their live show could match their recent studio highs.
Launching straight into the aforementioned "Pretty Green", the near-capacity crowd, who have escaped the miserable weather outside, seem to take a while to shake off those rainy blues and get into the swing of things. This despite second single "At Night In Dreams" following soon after. From early on, it's apparent that the set list is leaning heavily on their most recent studio output - not that the now warmed-up crowd seem too bothered.
Yet while the concise and skilfully crafted nature of the record demonstrates one of the more appealing aspects of the band, White Denim begin to draw out their undoubtedly well-written repertoire of songs with extended outros and multiple guitar solos. There's absolutely no doubting the quality of the guitar playing on show here - James Petralli and Austin Jenkins have a way of playing that's very reminiscent of the two-guitar approach of Television - yet there's an increasing sense that it's alienating large parts of the crowd. Suddenly Petralli's superb, heartfelt vocals don't seem as genuine and, coupled with the almost non-existent banter with the crowd, it begins to all feel a little impersonal.
The band only pause briefly to complain about the sound before commenting on the cavernous nature of the venue, appearing strangely uncomfortable in the spotlight for a group who have been playing together for almost a decade now. The in-tandem guitar playing and the tightness of the rhythm section are hugely impressive, but at times it feels as if the audience have stumbled onto a private jam session - aesthetically pleasing but perhaps not so for some who have paid almost £20 to be here.
White Denim have deservedly gained huge critical success recently, but there's just something missing from this live show. They haven't matched their recent studio output in a live setting, and whilst the bland venue doesn't help, you can't help but feel that they need to step their game up if they want to progress from darlings of the music media to darlings of the wider music community.