After five years of fun and memorable shows, The Whisperlights are calling it quits. Like all veterans of long-distance relationships, the band members tried to make it work by getting together once a year or so and rekindling the magic, but they had the added problem of trying to get eight people together. With members living on both coasts, it became more and more difficult.
Saturday, this energetic chamber-pop band will perform its final show back home, at Crescent Ballroom. We can't say we're not surprised; The Whisperlights hadn't been regular faces in the Phoenix crowd for a while, but their Los Dias De La Crescent performance was a wonderful weekend retreat for the band and its fans. Like any faltering long-distance relationship we wanted to make it work, we really did. But the band is making a clean break, and we'll have to respect that.
"We want to have a party and play our favorites one more time before everyone moves too far away to come back for shows easily," says singer/guitarist Ilya Riske. "We're playing all rockers at this show. Well, maybe one slow jam."
The Whisperlights weren't always a cross-country affair, but they didn't have long together in Phoenix after getting together in the spring of 2009. "I'd say that was our most productive time, 2009 and 2010. We practiced about three times a week and wrote a lot of material and played a lot of shows in that time. We recorded Wake Up Dead in September 2009, then most of Surfaces in May 2010."
Then the moving started. Guitarists Owen Marshall and Dave Gironda left that September, with Marshall attending graduate school at Cornell and Gironda heading to Austin. Later on drummer Wasef El-Kharouf went to film school at USC. Their periodic reunion shows got more difficult as time passed, but every band member will be in town for the final show. And it is the final show--when asked about any future re-reunions, Riske was unequivocal. "No, this will be it. No hope!"
Like any bittersweet breakup, all of us are left with a few regrets--Riske, for his part, says the band could've stuck together if things hadn't been so star-crossed. "Personally, there were 10 more songs I would have loved to play and record. We'd all still be playing in a band together if everyone still lived here."
But hey, we had good times, right? Riske was already remembering the good times when we talked to him. "We did two summer tours up and down the West Coast in 2010 and 2011. Both were amazingly fun, and we were lucky enough to play with a lot of really amazing groups all over. Spending two to three weeks with your closest friends in a van without air conditioning, with nothing else to do but drive 300 miles and then play music that you love, is pretty unbeatable."
Their final show is a call-back to those days: "Mostly, you can expect us all grinning from ear to ear and laughing our way through our set. Tobie [Milford] will deadpan all of his jokes. Owen will do his head-shakey thing when he is really into what he's playing. Wasef will tell some bad jokes, and then laugh at them. I'll do my ankle-jive dance. Chris will adjust his fedora several times. Henri [Benard] will shout "WHOOOOO!" and throw up his hands. Brent [Bachelder] will forget something, maybe a note, probably a cable. And Dave will probably mug for the cameras all night. Which cameras? All the cameras."
And whatever happens, and whatever the members of the Whisperlights do next--Riske has a new band, There Is Danger, who'll be opening their final show--we'll always have Phoenix.