Review and photos by Rachael
Walking into Irving Plaza this past Friday was like running into a nest of frightened skunks. Dank. Not to mention the adorably crusty little fiend running around and screeching “WAVVES” in people’s faces a solid three hours before their set was due. What more can you expect from a surf rock show featuring songs such as “Weed Demon” and “Alone & Stoned”? It was a night of firsts: my first Wavves show, my first Irving Plaza show, my first New York show.
On the topic of firsts, first up was Jacuzzi Boys. Do not expect a shared sound or experience when listening to their albums versus seeing them live. I was fully enamored the entire set, even tried to make eyes at singer, Gabriel Alcala. (This was impossible due to the cascade of greasy hair that blocked his face from us and our faces from him, but I digress.) On stage they were static, yet thrashing. They were raw, heavy, and intense. However, when I went to rediscover this power on Bandcamp, they were massively toned down and immensely more beachy than grungy. The recordings aren’t bad, simply less evocative. Seeing Jacuzzi Boys live is how they should be seen. (Which you Minnesota cats can, and should, do October 25 at the Triple Rock. (Sorry, no Wavves or King Tuff.))
When the screen was raised again, three men stood on stage holding a hand-painted red, white and blue King Tuff banner, all looking strikingly American (horseshoe mustaches, camo, American flag bandanas, etc. etc.). Although I do enjoy King Tuff, musically and performance-wise, their set was overrun by the surrounding crowd. I only had a moment here and there to enjoy the group, the rest of my time was spent fending off a topless uberfan whom would have left my arm chafed with her sweat and eyes blinded with her strings of dirty hair. Regardless of the nuisances around me, I was given several chances to connect the music with a face. That face was thoroughly enjoying himself. That face had one of the most genuine smiles I’ve ever seen. That face was Kyle Thomas.
My thesaurus is my best friend, and yet every aspect of Nathan Williams’ mouth is utterly ineffable. The perfectly gapped and rounded teeth, the lifted upper lip, the transformation from when it’s closed or ajar. It’s as if it moves in four directions while ours move in one. My point is, although the words are fleeting, the fact that his mouth is the constant focal point of the live show is inescapable. Except when his mouth it covered by the microphone. That makes it fairly escapable.
Wavves paid closer to the music than the presence. This was especially pronounced due to the fact that frontman Nathan is also on guitar, which you can all but assume will limit a singer’s movement. Along with Williams, the stoicism included bassist Stephen Pope…apart from his hair. When Pope would bob around, head down, his dyed blonde afro took on the motions of an epileptic jellyfish. Least enthused of all was guitarist Alex Gates, who looked as though he’d rather be just about anywhere else. But at the same time, there was a glimmer–as if all of the eye rolling was just a front and he were more invested than he’d ever dare put on.
The combination of rainbow lights, synthetic fog, and obnoxious fans was enough for me to leave my barricade position and morph into the middle of the crowd–the pit. Never have I experienced such an uncontained and ecstatic pit. The aggressive synchronicity was so admirable in the fact that everyone there appreciated everyone there. Bodies propelling off each other, lyrics being reciprocally shouted at strangers, and so on.
Before playing the final songs and finishing the show, Nathan started a speech with, “This is where we’re supposed to walk off the stage…” He went on to explain why encores are self indulgent, how he’d rather just play the last three songs, and “then you can all go home, or hang out with your friends, or whatever.”
As the venue emptied and I made my way out, I passed the merch tables. The merch tables were a world of their own. Blacklight sets of glowing memorabilia, anxious teens attempting to buy the perfect souvenir, and a burnout in a dingy Po costume (the Teletubby) manning the Wavves stand. Trekking the rest of the way, empties clanked under Doc Martens, I took a couple of shots of the musicians, and left Irving Plaza satiated and energized. (Not before hardstyling with Nathan and Steve outside, obviously.)
[Editor’s note: The photos are from a disposable camera, which is awesome and hilarious.]