I never got Wavves’ breakthrough hype-tastic second album, Wavvves, because after listening on Lala (those were the days--fucking Apple!) I discovered that it was about 25% listenable--the rest being noisy, tuneless experiments. The actual songs were promising chunks of fuzzed-to-hell lo-fi punk with sunny, '60s Cali melodies. I debated getting King of Beach and when I finally did two weeks ago I was instantly hooked. Songwriter Nathan William has eschewed the experiments completely and what we are left with is a modern Dookie for the noise pop era, punk heart through an indie lens. So I decided last minute to go see ‘em. The venue is two blocks from my house, so why not?
I love everything about living in a college town except the students. But without them--and a rad production company, Spirit of ’68--we wouldn't get so many great bands coming through. As I walked into Rhino’s, a great all-ages venue that also hosts youth arts programs, locals Apache Dropout were just starting. They had set up on the floor a good 10 feet in front of the stage, forcing the crowd to pack into the smaller area remaining in front of the band. They played through their own PA and distorted and reverbed the bejesus out of it so that every word was incomprehensible. These guys are the local Velvet Underground worshipers, and they do alright by that lineage, though it comes through more on their recorded output than it does live. Their scuzzed-out rock uses a simple garage rock formula, akin to the Black Lips’ first two records. This sound won me over quickly but got stale just as quick with the overly simplistic drum parts all around the same tempo and those mumbled vocals.
Wavves’ fellow San Diegans Christmas Island (In the Red/Woodsist) moved things up to the actual stage of Rhino’s, and boy were they a motley crew. Chick drummer wearing an Alf shirt; young blonde-haired dude singing and strumming (Brian Island); jockish bass player; and an older long-haired guy looking bored on second guitar and keyboard. They were a’ight; more jangly, ramshackle, neurotic pop that we’re getting a lot of lately. Two songs that stuck out from their set would be “Dinosaur” cuz, hell, it’s about dinosaurs and he just lists ‘em off at one point, and then “Twenty Nine,” a toe-tapper with sunny keys about a dude who is the same age as me.
That age began to feel ancient as more crazy kids showed up in time for Wavves. Armed with the powerhouse (and large and hairy) rhythm section that once backed Jay Reatard, Nathan Williams (a shrimp who likely doesn't need to shave) stepped on stage only to check his pedal levels and ask for more vocal reverb for an eternity. Now I love reverb. But reverb hides. That’s why all us less-talented folks use it so damn much--to mask our vocal shortcomings. But when you pile that much on at a venue that has trouble providing enough vocal power as it is, you’re not gonna hear shit.
The band blasted through some of their most punk ditties first, basically alternating between new and old tunes. The band sounded solid on “King of the Beach” and “Idiot” near the beginning of the set as well as Wavvves’ “To the Dregs,” with Williams and bassist Stephen Pope covering the falsetto wails together. Some of the older tunes I have been unable to identify due to my unfamiliarity, compounded by the inability to hear lyrics, which made it impossible to figure out in post.
As the set wore on, tempos and feels blurred together. While Wavves are basically a punk band in noise pop clothes, it began to feel like just another punk rock show. Drummer Billy Hayes sped around the kit without breaking a sweat and provided comic relief (messing with a guy in the crowd just for wearing a hat: "What do you think this is, a hat store?!”) while Pope kept the energy level high, flinging his mop of faded orange curls around constantly. But with the band overlooking new tracks like ballad “When Will You Come,” utilizing the tried-and-true “Be My Baby” drumbeat, the Chad Vangaalen-ish herky-jerky beat and blipping synths on “Convertible Balloon” and the swirling Animal Collective-style “Baseball Cards” and “Mickey Mouse” (I wouldn't even have minded if they tried one of those older, noisy experiments), the band seemed one-note. The low vocal levels didn't help either, of course. The intro of “Green Eyes” had to be the only thing they played that landed below 120 bpm.
The band rocked “Post Acid” and then finished up with a quartet of solid tunes old and new: “Super Soaker,” “So Bored,” the Pope-penned “Linus Spacehead” and then, of course, “No Hope Kids,” when all of a sudden they got too lazy for the falsetto parts. Boo.
After falling in love with King of the Beach I was really looking forward to the show. But with "meh" openers, sound that couldn't keep up and poor set choice from Wavves, I left disappointed.