courtesy of Wavves.
While the early-week, DC-music, blogosphere is atwitter with tales of Courtney Love’s awful on-stage antics at the 9:30 Club on Sunday night, Friday night’s Wavves show seems to be completely off radar. This is interesting to me, because Wavves mastermind, Nathan Williams, is an equally volatile personality known for on-stage meltdowns and fisticuffs of his own. In fact, before the weekend began, the quality of the Friday night Waaves’ concert at Rock & Roll Hotel was as much in question as was which Courtney Love would appear at the 9:30 Club on Sunday. When faced with the decision of which concert to attend (there was no way I was going to sandwich my weekend with potential cluster-f*cks) I used a simple calculus to aid my decision making: Courtney Love is a miserable, over-the-hill, waste of space who only ever put out one good album; while Nathan Williams of Wavves is an unpredictable, indie-genius on the rise, who cranks out infectious tunes as frequently as normal people draw breath. For me the decision was easy; both shows had the potential to be spectacular personality-based failures, but only Wavves had the possible upside of also delivering brilliant music.
Nathan Williams did not have a nervous break-down on-stage, nor did he indulge himself as the star of his own iPhone-shot reality-show on Friday night. He did talk quite a bit between songs, but then so did his rhythm section. Their collective antics were less delusional rants and more about bratty fun. Wavves did more than hold it together on Friday night. They showed up with their snotty, punk attitude and tore through an hour of great, noise-wrapped pop-music. They were preceded by another blog buzz-band in Cloud Nothings from Cleveland, who also put on an excellent set of bedroom-recording inspired tunes. Both bands combined to put on an fantastic new music showcase for the nearly sold-out crowd at Rock & Roll Hotel on Friday.
Turns out there is something to this lo-fi, bedroom recording, self-release on the internet movement. Until Friday night, I had yet to really catch a lo-fi band live (although I have been following the careers of many of them).* I guess when you get right down to it, their creative ways of generating noise and the types of song structures they choose to wrap it around really impress me as a fan of noisy rock and roll. There is a Husker Du feel in both the emotional vocals and guitars of some of these bands that really appeals to me.** Another aspect of the lo-fi explosion (revival, really) is the bands’ self-marketing with the internet and gaining buzz through blogs before landing record deals. Both Dylan Baldi (the brains behind Cloud Nothings) and Nathan Williams (the originator of Wavves) have used the internet in different ways to cultivate a following.
Dylan Baldi under his solo-recording moniker and live group name, Cloud Nothings, has garnered nothing but praise (nearing worship) across the internet for his honest approach to making the best music he can with the equipment at hand. His debut album is a rhythmic, noise-wrapped, power-pop extravaganza. In concert, his four-man unit is one of the tightest young bands that I have seen in quite sometime. Their timing on Friday night was impeccable. Starting and stopping on a dime; the dual guitars and rhythm section hammered away at Baldi’s toe-tapping, head-bobbing power-pop. The show gave me a great sense of satisfaction as I watched this young bandleader so committed to the form of his songs. Baldi’s appearance is somewhat McLovin’-like and endearing, while his singing style is the perfect balance of sing and shout lending his lyrics a good mix of gravity and fun. I was thoroughly impressed with Cloud Nothings’ geek-punk performance on Friday. Their precise sound rivaled the evening’s headliner for the best set of the night.
Nathan Williams as Wavves has used the internet (or been used by it) to gain a certain notoriety over the last couple of years. As a personality, Williams is one of the snottiest, brats music has produced since pre-”Dookie”-era, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. The word punk is used in music to describe a certain genre, and in fashion a particular way of dress, but as a personality descriptor (in the Dirty Harry Callahan sense of the word) it is reserved for a particular breed of wise-cracking, ingrate like Williams. Even when Williams has got his shit together (as he did on Friday night) he still has this snot-nosed, Cali-stoner personality that is just hard to like. His stage banter was at times nonsensical but in a very purposeful, screw-with-the-crowd way. Other times, his jokes were just flat out dumb, stoner humor. Williams is joined on this Wavves tour with his new backing band, the former rhythm section of the late, great Jay Reatard. Looking like hairy orks from some surf cave in Southern California, the rhythm section often supplemented Williams’ fooling around. The quote from Friday night that pretty much summed up Wavves’ attitude is, “This song is about how shit don’t mean stuff.”
Musically, Wavves delivered the entertainment that their sophomoric humor did not. Williams broke several guitar strings, shredding it up right and proper, to deliver the amplifier-wrapped-in-a-wet-mattress sound that he created on his old tape-recorder, home-recordings. The rhythm section added to the punk-dance punch of Williams’ compositions and got the very enthusiastic crowd slam-dancing and crowd-surfing for most of the set. Williams sang through heavy microphone effects the entire show; in fact most of his bad jokes were told with the same echo-chamber, reverb that was applied to his singing. Wavves’ approach to noise is deceptively simple and seemingly sound-a-like on every song, but after seeing his songs performed live, it became obvious that underneath all that noise lies a great song-writing talent. Williams crafts extremely catchy pop-punk songs that are irresistible to a good-natured crowd inclined to dance. For the first half of the show, I was quite surprised to see so many seemingly mainstream people going crazy to Wavves’ extremely noisy music. But then it dawned on me that regardless of the noise, Williams’ pop anthem structures are bulletproof. As long as Williams can keep up the good song-writing and delivering on those songs in concert like he did on Friday night at Rock & Roll Hotel; I’ll be willing to over-look the less than stellar personality.***
* I am finally seeing The Vivian Girls and No Age later this year!
** In fact, No Age (easily my favorite of the lo-fi scene) played with Bob Mould as Husker Du at the 2009 All Tomorrow’s Parties New York (man, I would have killed to be there for that!).
*** I look forward to the day Williams outgrows the need to be a silly show-off. I am sure, if he lasts that long, we are in-store for some even better music than his already impressive output.