New York City really loves White Denim. Earlier this year, the Austin-based group sold out Webster Hall, and the psychedelic rockers just returned for a three-night run at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg. Friday’s show—the closer—added another sold-out NYC gig to White Denim’s name.

Maybe it’s because, for one thing, White Denim is a refreshingly cool band in a market that can sometimes feel saturated with pretentiousness. The group of four legitimately walks onstage and plays without so much as a banner hung up behind them. There is no calculated attempt to be anything—no overpowering personas, no obvious trendiness (a slight exception: guitarist Austin Jenkins, whose sole stage outfit is a denim shirt tucked into denim high-waisted jeans, which means he definitely fits in in Brooklyn).

It’s wise of White Denim to perform sans distractions: their sound is a trip that needs no scenery. First, there’s the hyper mashup of genres and influences. One minute the band sounds straight out of the ’70s, other times, you’ll feel like you’re at a punk show. Singer-guitarist James Petralli’s voice ranges from M. Ward-mellow to Chris Cornell-powerful. Next, there’s the delivery—serpentine, razor-precise jams that veer like a roller coaster into unexpected segues. The tightness of the performance is exhilarating to witness. Moment after moment, you’ll wonder how the hell they pull it off.

The band’s latest album, 2013’s Corsicana Lemonade, brilliantly showcased all of those qualities. But the music really needs the live setting to fully crank up to its 20-energy-drink potential. Music Hall of Williamsburg is an intimate, unassuming place that matched White Denim’s appeal very well. Early into the set on Friday Petralli joked, “Do you want to hang out while we play for two and a half hours?” Turns out he was partially serious—White Denim played for two hours, surpassing the 90-minute sets they’ve played at previous New York shows.

The set drew upon the Corsicana material but also dug deeper into the band’s back catalogue. “Pretty Green” started the night off as a good warmup off the new album, and within minutes revved into a furious jam that had the crowd cheering. It’s remarkable how everyone in White Denim stays so zenlike on stage, hardly reacting to the insanity they’re creating. This may be due to the fact that their brand of super-sharp playing probably requires serious focus—sloppiness, or even slight meandering, is not a thing White Denim does.

A good stretch of the show was pretty punky. The crowd jumped around to “I Start to Run” and its uptempo bass. “Shake Shake Shake” was the punk pinnacle, with its charging drumbeat and all four band members yelling into the mics. The chaos gave way to the slow, dreamy “Street Joy” before picking up again with some newer material. “Let it Feel Good” is a great, countryish Friday night song with its fun hook “If it feels good, let it feel good to you.” The lyricless “At the Farm” was one of the highest points of the set. It showcased the head-spinning interplay between the whole band, particularly Petralli and Jenkins. Like many White Denim songs, this one went from stationary to 100 miles per hour in just seconds—and ended in the opposite way.

Toward the end of the set, Petralli went a little nihilist and started purposely breaking and taking off his guitar strings, one by one, while still playing. By the end of the set he was kneeling on the ground with a stringless guitar, leaving an encore seeming unlikely. But White Denim returned for one more: “Radio Milk How Can You Stand It” (Petralli borrowed a guitar from Jenkins). The thundering, tempo-switching, nearly 10-minute song summed up everything White Denim does well, which is the best way they could have concluded their three nights in Brooklyn. All of us spoiled New Yorkers can only hope they’ll be back in another few months.

White Denim @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | 9/12/14

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