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Live: NY Times Reviews Wavves. Should We Feel Young or Old?

February 09, 2009

Because we are actually fifteen (PSATs suuuuckkkk), it’s still pretty weird when we see things we like show up in the mainstream media. In today’s New York Times, there is a review of Saturday night’s Wavves show, all official with first and last names, times and places, feelings and thoughts. Being the paper of record, there is a heft and responsibility to being the one to tunnel the underground into the mainstream, and it is with a hefty burden and humorous heart that Jon Caramanica translates for our parents. But, you know, we were at that show, too. Did he get it right? We saw Caramanica: he was totally wearing his button-down around his shoulders like a Cape Cod prep! He’s really tall and he was standing close to the stage; did he block views? The needs of many Arts and Leisure readers versus the needs of one short person behind him? He totally made a joke that was just as funny (if not less funny) than one of our jokes. He talked to our friends and left without saying goodbye! (Jon, we saw you at McDonald's from a taxi!) Are we the NY Times? We totally watched from the same angle, we saw what he saw and thus what you see if you are show-going vicariously. Thus, are you the NY Times, too? Will Wavves remain submerged or will the Grey Lady make him float? Our annotated review of Caramanica’s review is after the jump.

Through a Haze, Lightly (Smells Like Summer Spirit)

Did you catch the Nirvana reference? Our moms might not (and they totally read the arts section). It’s pretty apt. Wavves had total Bleach-era thrash fuzz happening.

Nathan Williams’s starter Flock of Seagulls haircut was silly with sweat, slapping at his face and neck as he jerked around on the tiny stage at Less Artists More Condos in the West Village on Saturday night.

Dude check out all the facts in that first sentence! Nice one, newspaper! Nathan Williams is totally Wavves name. Less Artsts More Condos totally the venue. West Village totally the venue’s neighborhood. Saturday night totally the time. And a little snark in there, too. The hair was maybe less Flock of Seagulls than purposefully butchered mudflap. New wave is too purposeful for this dude.

But after nearly every song he stopped for a look in the virtual mirror. Not at the hair, but at less likely concerns. Was his guitar tuned properly? (It was not.) Could he hit the notes the next song required? (Define hit. And notes.)

You lose us a little here, Jon! Why aren’t they notes? Because they have lots of fuzz through them? But maybe you are trying to tell the non-Wavves familiar readers of the paper (ninety billion percent of the Times) that it was a pretty melody thing without being so literal? If so, as writers, we appreciate that. But maybe doing a disservice to Wavves: Williams has melody aplenty. We don’t like anything without a little shimmy in it, not just a pantomime at melody.

Musing about whether he could pull off a particular number, he demurred — “No. I can’t. Sorry.” — and then dove in anyway.

Yeah! Young ferocity! Also, Caramanica, we totally saw you writing quotes into your BlackBerry.

Slickness isn’t really a concern for Mr. Williams, a one-man band from San Diego who records as Wavves.—More facts!but crispness is.

The dissolution of crispness? Wavves sounds crystalline only if the crystal is buried in wet sand.

His terrific second album, “Wavvves” (Fat Possum), teems with scrappy, energetic, summery chunks of noisy pop: smart-aleckyness via Weezer, cooing via the Beach Boys, all masked by digital effects and a thick garage-rock haze. (The album is to be released this week on iTunes and next month on CD.)—Double fact!

We also thought about Nirvana (you already got that one obliquely in the title, nice one, Jon), the Angry Samoans and the Queers, too. The sound may be uncomfortable recession-era approrpriate summer pop but the attitude is ageless suburbia fidgetiness.

With the drummer Ryan Ulsh, Wavves was a dynamic, thrilling two-piece outfit here.

Doesn’t the word “thrilling” sound kind of old and too window-shoppy? Who was thrilled? Williams? Us? The reader when they imagine themselves in a sweaty brick room listening to a twenty-two-year-old swear? We would say less “thrilling” and more “exhilaratingly fucked up,” but that is definitely less concise. “Dynamic” we might take issue with but it works.

It didn’t matter that Mr. Williams’s pitch wasn’t perfect, though it often was; his songs are rigorously constructed.

Totally true. You know when someone gives someone else a compliment and they don’t say “thank you” but “I know” because it’s just one of those accepted things. Like “boy you have long, luscious hair, Rapunzel.” Wavves songs are undoubtedly“rigorously constructed." Listen to the layers. You didn’t know they were there at first, then the density’s unaccidental place of origin emerges.

With Mr. Ulsh keeping brutal time on the cymbal, “So Bored,” “Beach Demon” and “California Goths” were punchy and brisk.

There was totally only one cymbal, too. It was badass. And we love the word "brutal."

But, yes, Mr. Williams’s pretty—Pretty!—voice was often scratchy. During “To the Dregs,” a clear hiss of air was coming from his lungs, up through the microphone and out of the speakers.

Which song was is this? We totally have two Wavves albums, a 7-inch and an unreleased song and we don’t know “To the Dregs.” Caramanica, did you do some journo-snooping to find out the title?

He tried to finish his set twice, but the crowd wouldn’t let him. At the end the show’s promoter, Todd P, informed Mr. Williams that he had 47 minutes before the room had to close, but Mr. Williams used only a few of them — playing a spectacular “No Hope Kids,” one of the best songs from “Wavvves” — before packing up to leave.

Yeah it was weird he played so short. But then again his songs are mostly three minutes max. But it was so thick and warm in there (we’re never going to Less Artists More Condos in the summer) that doing anything physical must have felt filthy. You know in movies when pregnant women just get made up with all that sweaty birth goo? It was probably that gnarly. Also we had been there for four hours at that point, he was probably there longer. Sometimes you just wanna get moving.

Wavves, which performed last on the lineup of bands here, was immediately preceded by Blank Dogs, from Brooklyn, another one-man project that required multiple bodies (five in this case) to recreate its sound live and which also buries its melodic gifts in rivers of distortion.

Yeah dude this was not as jamming as we wanted. But dude looked scary with his hood up and you know that menace was purposeful because it was hot.

Here the filters were the darker strains of 1980s new wave, as heard on the excellent “Setting Fire to Your House.” This wholly enveloping set was, fortunately, far less polished than the most recent Blank Dogs release, “The Fields” (Woodsist), one of several the band has put out — in myriad formats (cassette, 7-inch single, etc.) — in the last two years. Mike Sniper, the man behind Blank Dogs, played the show with a black hoodie pulled over his head and with his vocals heavily distorted, even when bantering between songs.

We disagree with this. Blank Dogs was not as good not as crisp. The roboto-distortion felt monotonous and too faux-serious. We don’t get the feeling that Blank Dogs is a particularly playful band (and we put an entire story about his studied seriousness in the current issue of our magazine) but it felt more imposingly scary than goofy scary. But maybe we are pussies? Also you totally mentioned the hoodie, too. We are totally NY Times reporter level observant, bitches.

Not every band here was hiding, though. Nodzzz, a three-piece group from the Bay Area, played alluringly straightforward pop from its self-titled 2008 debut album (What’s Your Rupture?), with the slightest shroud of fuzz.

Nodzzz jammed. We didn’t hear any fuzz! Crispest band of the night. All of the songs were two minutes or under. They are Freaks and Geeks if Freaks and Geeks was a band. Can we party with you? Partying with Nodzzz probably means doing the crossword together.

On “In the City (Contact High)” and “Controlled Karaoke,” Anthony Atlas sang bittersweet lyrics while Sean Paul Presley shut his eyes and sang high-pitched harmony. Midset, lacking a tambourine, Mr. Atlas asked audience members for keys to rattle.

This was a cute gesture but we couldn’t hear the rattle.

The Woodsist label, which has released material by Wavves and Blank Dogs, is run by Jeremy Earl, the singer of the band Woods, which was the most anomalous group on the bill. First, it showed all its cards, never ambivalent about its psychedelic noise-folk goals, and second, it was lackluster, except for G. Lucas Crane, who kneeled on the floor as if in pain, singing into a rickety headphones and manipulating, among other things, a pair of cassette players connected to a mixer and crossfader. He looked like he had been imported from another band, another scene, another planet.

We totally noticed the weird shaggy haired guy on the ground yelling and then saw Jon notice him right after us. Now it’s in the newspaper. We are history.

Posted: February 09, 2009
Live: NY Times Reviews Wavves. Should We Feel Young or Old?