That's it. Summer is over, and Wavves sent it packing last night with an adrenaline- and pot-fueled rager. Crowd surfing at the Billiken Club isn't something you see every day, but Wavves is no stranger to turning self-conscious hipsters into seething party monsters. The club was at capacity one song into the opener's set, less than fifteen minutes after the show was scheduled to start. It was the perfect end to a shitty summer, and had all the romance of a high school house party you see only in movies, complete with a rumor that the cops had showed up.
San Diego's Christmas Island opened after a mildly irritating soundcheck, delivering hapless diet punk with a surfeit of adolescent self-pity and the occasional catchy, if unoriginal, hook. Maybe the set would have been better if frontman Brian Island were capable of emotion, or if the band wrote more straightforward songs, or if it lost the random organ noise*. But instead Christmas Island proved that not all garage-tainted surf pop is created equal. Proof, meet pudding, a.k.a. the reason why people showed up last night: Wavves.
*Or, perhaps if they kept the organ noise and lost everything else.
View an entire slideshow of photos from Wavves' show at the Billiken Club.
Wavves' Nathan Williams shot to fame in 2009, did a lot of drugs (which either saved his career or ruined it, depending on the personal drug preference of whomever you're talking to) and then snapped up Jay Reatard's enigmatically coiffed and awesome rhythm section, bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes. Last night Williams showed his evolution as an artist and proved himself fully capable of not fucking up -- while maintaining his reputation as a complete fuck-up.
After a soundcheck, Williams joked with the audience that they were going to cancel the show in light of the anniversary of 9/11. He asked the sound guy to turn his guitar up to "ear-blistering" and quipped, "I'm going to hurt them like they hurt our country." One of his bandmates said, "Too soon!" and Williams countered "Too soon? It's been like eight years, man," and then asked, "Should we get high to commemorate?" The crowd voiced their approval as the band walked off the stage to go burn a joint for each tower. In true absent-minded stoner fashion, Williams leaned his guitar against his amp in his haste to go get (more) blazed, resulting in ear-splitting feedback. Before the crowd finished debating if it was actually serious, Wavves returned a few minutes later in full-on party mode and threw down hard, opening with "Friends Were Gone." Not to be outdone, the crowd responded in kind and moshed with savage glee. "You're all getting suspended if you don't quiet down," Williams said.
The Technicolor "King of the Beach," the raucous title track of Wavves' third album, transported the crowd into fuck-all mania; one crowd surfer came dangerously close to kicking lights off the ceiling, and people by the stage were bent double over monitors, bracing themselves against the sweaty crush of bodies. Things got so out of control so quickly it was surprising that the management didn't pull the plug, though they would have had a full blown riot on their hands if they had. Wavves' older stuff (if you can call songs that have barely celebrated their first birthday "old") such as "To The Dregs" played well, though the influence of Pope and Hayes was evident. The magic lo-fi grit of Wavves' pre-real band was woefully absent, though Pope and Hayes' abuse of their instruments is probably better classified as bloodletting than playing.
"Green Eyes" was the closest Wavves came to mellowing out -- and there was no room for a slow jam and no point in winding the crowd down just to tease them back to climax anyway. Instead, the band rested comfortably in sonic overdrive: Williams snarled, "My, my own friends hate me/But I don't give a shit" and wrenched burned-out riffs on his guitar while Pope flayed his bass. The charming glockenspiel that brightens up that song was also absent, or else lost in the fracas. The strident self-flagellation and ghostly "ooohs" of "Take on the World" had the crowd singing along, but needed more reverb. Williams introduced the "Post Acid" saying he wrote it at age thirteen, then said it was written thirteen years ago, and he didn't know how old he was when he wrote it. If he was doing acid that young, it would explain a lot. The band tried to take the audience requests, though people kept asking for songs they'd already played. "You guys are just like, shouting shit now. McDonalds!" Williams joked.
"So Bored" and "No Hope Kids" were so primally consuming that Pope looked a few chords away from faceplanting into his effects pedals. The band shoved the tail ends of those songs and psychy, Pope-penned "Linus Spacehead" into the shit blender and hit "macerate," wending uncomfortably close to glam-metal territory. "No Hope Kids" was the perfect last song, and if the crowd's amped reaction was genuine, it's a bastardized "Baba O'Riley" for Generation Apathy: "Got no car/Got no money/I got nothin' nothin' nothin' not at all/Got no god/Got no girlfriend/No hope kids are bruised."
Setlist: Friends Were Gone King of the Beach To The Dregs Idiot Wavves Green Eyes Take on the World Weed Demon Post Acid Beach Demon Super Soaker So Bored Linus Spacehead No Hope Kids
Critic's Notebook: Safely out of the way of the crowd, my interaction with SLUchebags (that brilliant portmanteau coined by one Julie Dill in response to the idiotic crowd at Chaifetz Arena for Ben Folds and a Piano earlier this year) was minimal, apart from nearly being flattened by ten-foot-high speakers. But damn, someone needs to teach these people how to mosh properly.
Notebook Dump: I wish I had even the slightest idea why I wrote "akin to stepping barefoot on a used condom" at one point in the show. Any guesses?
Random Comments: "I love going to band practice." -- crowd member during Christmas Island's soundcheck.
"I'm not a piece of shit, you're a piece of shit!" Pope to a heckler.
Thanks: To the Billiken Club and Chris Grabau for allowing the crowd to get buck and not pulling the plug when things got crazy.