You know what record is severely -- "criminally," one might say if they were given to old timey rock writer sayings -- underrated? Hole's Live Through This. Some (a lot? a bit? -- I'm not exactly sure) of this certainly has to do with the oft-whispered allegations that Kurt Cobain wrote the record. He may have (he didn't) but, either way, that does little to dull the fact that it's one of the very, very best albums of the 90s. In fact, if he had written it that'd be so much the better for its sterling reputation.
Live Through This is one conflicted woman's take on the grunge thing -- a big fuck you to both the boys club in Seattle and the riot chhhcks in Olympia -- and, in the right mood, I might argue that it's actually a more consistently impressive album than anything from the Nirvana catalog. Certainly, Live Through This is above anything done by the Soundgardens, Mudhonies, Screaming Trees, etc. I'd argue that, if you can set aside the cultural significance of Nevermind, it's easy to see Live Through This as the best album of the bunch.
The point is this: Sometimes there's a bunch of dudes making really, really great music in a cool scene, but it takes a woman to make the definitive statement and the closest-to-perfect record.
So it was that "Best Coast" was in slightly larger typeface on posters advertising last night's show with Wavves at Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe.
And why I decided before I went that I was going to dedicate my review to Best Coast singer Bethany Cosentino and not her boyfriend, Nathan Williams.
Beth is the star of her scene on the strength of Crazy for You, an incredible collection of fuzzed-out longing that managed to become a bigger commercial force than her bf's King of the Beach as well as solid 2010 offerings from No Age and Abe Vigoda. As I've argued before, it's a concept record about a teenage longing for love and while some writers might say there's no way that can compare to a record about a mute kid who plays pinball or an alien rock star who comes to earth to bang groupies, I thought it was pretty great.
Anyway, it's good to see the focus on Bethany, even if a lot of it is Hipster Runoff hating on her. Notable, however, is that similar accusations of a MAN behind the curtain plague Bethany. Well, actually, her silent cohort Bobb Bruno is responsible for much of the band's signature sound.
But, hey, Bethany is the band -- just look at the publicity shots. Her fucking cat gets more play than the dude who crafted her career. But Bobb knows what's up. The fact that looks matter as much as they do in the so totally unshallow indiesphere might not occur to him if he were from, say, Detroit. There, he may have ignored the problems associated with his skuzzstache and soft chin, and fuckin' done it anyway. But Bobb is from El Lay, baby, and he realizes throwing a little pretty on things will take 'em further. So Bethany is the band.
Bobb's shyness doesn't work in concert, however, and I'm sad to report that Bethany and Co. have some work to do. This was a pretty bad show -- surprising, considering the band was here two months ago and played a pretty solid set at Rhythm Room.
It wasn't Bethany's alleged aloofness that did her in, either. Her jokes weren't particularly funny -- a bit where she got the crowd to cheer enough to summon her sphinx-silent guitarist to the mic to say something, at which point he mumbled one syllable, 'yeah' or 'okay' or something, then stood back and smiled, was the highlight -- but she definitely seemed happy and made eye contact when not trying to play guitar.
However, the sound flat-out sucked. Despite her reputation for detachment, Bethany gamely battled through some of the worst sound I've ever seen at a show so large -- word around the campfire is that the bands brought out their own tech, presumably some stoner buddy from LA -- including an episode where her guitar fell silent during the opener, "I Want To." Then we got to watch her strum it for a minute while the roadie figured out what the hell was going on. He got sound... kinda. Paraphrasing a joke from Annie Hall, the sound sucked, and there was so little of it!
It was quiet enough to eavesdrop on conversations while standing next to the bar in the center of the room and I suspect people in the back could hardly tell what was happening during "Wish He Was You." Things were marginally better up front in the kiddie section during a cover of Loretta Lynn's "Fist City," which showcased Bethany's voice better than any song I've heard the band do. "Boyfriend," and "Honey," which came next, gave Bethany plenty of opportunities to stare down at her fingerings, an unfortunate habit even in a smaller room but really a problem here, especially without good, loud sound to focus on.
"Something In the Way" -- not a Nirvana song, Bethany pointed out, though she stole the title -- and "When You Wake Up" closed things out as the band slid off stage. The house lights didn't come on for at least 15 seconds, but there wasn't anyone clamoring for an encore, so eventually the lights just flipped awkwardly on as an MC told the crowd they were welcome to go next door (to a bar with shared ownership) and drink away the disappointment.
Last Night: Best Coast and Wavves at Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe.
The Crowd: Very diverse -- evenly split between Lolcat lovers and Hipster Runoff regulars.
Overheard: "Yeah, I think they would have done an encore if anyone had been cheering, but it was pretty quiet in there," said a guy crossing the street next to me.
Random Notebook Dump: Looks like the band was doing a lot of merch, which has to be of some consolation after such a shitty show. Wish these kids had seen the band back in November -- such a better show. Gonna be a long tour through middle America if the sound is so bad throughout.
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One more thing: I found this photo of Wavves at SXSW 2009. My iPhone was so young and innocent then, and this kid hadn't yet freaked the fuck out in Spain and made himself the new Peter Doherty. Good times. If you want more current photos of Wavves check out our slideshow.