"Oh yeah," Nathan Williams of Wavves leered as I introduced myself last night at The Rhythm Room. "You're the guy who wrote the article with the 'Wavves spits on a guy' headline." That wasn't the headline, exactly, but the article he was referring to clearly set the stage for an interesting gig. After all, the last time he was in Phoenix, he spit in a concert-goer's face, puked outside of Trunk Space and played "the worst set ever." "I really hope some body spits in my mouth tonight," he joked, reaching for a bottled water.
But the show last night was short on obnoxious Wavves mischief and focused more on what initially grabbed the attention of Pitchfork and all those tastemaking blogs: Wavves' incessantly catchy, distortion saturated, bratty pop-punk. Following strong performances from Phoenix post-punkers Earthmen & Strangers and Sacramento psych-surfers Ganglians, Williams took the stage with drummer Zach Hill. The duo tore through a 45 minute set of songs to a strangely hushed audience, blasting through cuts from the Wavvves LP and showcasing new songs. "You guys are loud," an audience member noted. "Thanks," William shouted, with an impish grin before launching into another song, his voice impossibly obscured by reverb.
"It's so quiet in here," Williams pondered between songs. It was, painfully so even. Wavves plays pretty abandoned rock music, but the crowd seemed positively restrained. Perhaps it was the all-ages cage separating the more energetic fans from the beer swilling bar denizens, or perhaps it was the unshakable feeling that one wrong hoot or jeer would set Williams off and disrupt the set. Whether or not it's deserved, his reputation precededs him. "It's really kind of freaking me out," he stated again, which prompted some crowd members to shout out requests. Williams responded by laughing maniacally into his mic.
Fan favorites like "So Bored" and "No Hope Kids" were met with the evening's biggest cheers, but the new songs were the most exciting moments of the show. As much as it pains me to resort to Nirvana comparisons, the new songs displayed a considerable debt to Cobain's soft/loud compositions. Hill's batshit insane contributions to the songs and overall stage presence can not be overstated. His rickety kit rocked violently back and forth as he cut through Williams' wall of noise guitars, twisting the songs' time signatures with his rolls and crashing cymbals. By mid-set he had broken his snare, and the band paused while he procured and tuned another one.
Williams thanked the crowd as the band roared into their finale, another new one, and easily their most aggressive song to date. Williams frantically strummed and wordlessly howled, and Hill seemed intent on destroying his drum set. As the song ended, he lost a drum stick and proceeded to bash at his crash cymbal with a clenched fist. The crowd cheered as Wavves exited the stage, and the house lights came on. As I closed out my tab at the bar, Williams rushed up and asked the bartender for peroxide and bandages; turns out Hills caveman antics had resulted in a nasty cut. Williams claimed in our interview that Wavves owed Phoenix a proper show, and the contrast between that infamous show and this one couldn't be more concrete: Last time Wavves spat on us, this time, they bled for us.
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Last Night: Wavves w/Earthmen & Strangers and Ganglians at The Rhythm Room
Better Than: The beer at The Bikini Lounge, if you ask Williams. "That place has dirty pipes," he said, claiming that the PBR made him and his entourage instantly sick when they last visited. I got a touch defensive about one of my favorite bars, but the dudes didn't seem convinced by my apologetics.
Personal Bias: In another local music blog, I once described Wavves as "underwhelming," though, in retrospect, I think my comments were motivated more out of my disdain for the hype surrounding the band than their music. Now that the buzz has died down, Williams has proven there's more to Wavves than bad haircuts and hissy-fits and I'm confident the next album will cement them as more than an indie-rock novelty.
Random Fact: Zach Hill is a busy dude, and has manned the skins for some pretty diverse folks, like Primus bassist Les Claypool, The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and guitar goddess Marnie Stern.
Further Listening: Check out Hill's band Hella, who's guitar work couldn't be more different than Wavves.