Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Those familiar with the smaller stage at Underground Arts may know that seven musicians is at least three too many for a space of that size. A small extension was added centerstage on Thursday night for White Fence frontman Tim Presley, like a mini-catwalk, but the garage rock anti-hero hardly took advantage of it in the conventional sense, using it instead to edge up his mic only slightly to give the rest of his band just a little breathing room in the wings.
Presley comes off as demure, unassuming and refreshingly unpretentious, his shirt tucked into his high-waisted green trousers throughout a set that, by way of stage banter, offered not much more than this arresting declaration, a couple of songs in: “I have a confession to make. I have a mustache. Is that okay?” A supportive hipster crowd played along as Presley added context, “it was grown organically in California, and then I brought it over here to the East coast. Thank you.”
On paper, White Fence can seem like a pastiche tapestry of the canonical traditions of 1960s garage-, psych- and mod-rock, with a little early-era punk and even some jazz key-work and percussion mixed in. There’s sort of a pop potluck to their show, where you can easily spot the Townshend-flavored Who, the Lola-Versus-Powerman-era Kinks, the six years of records from pre-”Dark-Side” Floyd, the art rock of Reed’s Underground and the jingle-jangly electric riffs with which the Byrds retrofitted multiple Dylan standards.
But to dismiss them as some jumbled serving of bands featured on the posters of every white college kid’s dorm room for the last half a century is to miss out grievously. Where lesser talent might have sunken to some beholden fan’s hackneyed tribute band, Presley is much more of a rightful heir to those rock-n-roll traditions. His crew blisters, as no less than three guitarists layer identical rhythm riffs in unison as the frontman solos on his own battle-worn Fender Jazzmaster. They withdraw mid-song into chaotic Piper At The Gates Of Dawn musical bonfires, single staccato Stratocaster notes flickering like erratic embers, before reuniting for fleeting cathartic euphony. The music often doesn’t sit still long enough to be able to pigeonhole, as Presley and co. weave elements of their cultural and compositional influences into something much more than the sum of its parts.
At their worst, White Fence is the best garage band in town, but at best they offer moments of sobering psych-rock euphoria that serve some solace to those who ever thought “they just don’t make them like they used to.” — JOSH PELTA HELLER