Monday, April 6, 2009

Live: Wavves, DD/MM/YYYY

When: 3/30
Where: Mercury Lounge

After numerous failed attempts to see Wavves live, I finally caught them last week at Mercury Lounge. Wavves, the ultra-lo-fi punk/surf/pop of San Diego's Nathan Williams, has been one of the most exciting musicians to appear in the last few years.

The band (Williams and a touring drummer) slammed out a short set of many of the best tunes off both his recent albums, along with one or two I didn't recognize. As I was hoping they would, Wavves struck the perfect balance of cool and enthusiasm, devoid of the lazy, entitled attitude of some of their colleagues (cough cough crystal stilts cough cough). They had energy, but still had a confident ease that's particularly striking given their obvious youth.

Technically, Williams is terrible - he's been touring for two months and still, his simple guitar parts aren't quite down pat. He's got a nice voice but had trouble more than once hitting the right notes. And all of this just makes him even more awesome. Because this is lo-fi, this is punk rock, and that's what makes Wavves so great - they are exactly what punk is about - kids flipping a finger at convention and pretension and just rocking the fuck out!

Of course, that's not to say Wavves is without talent - quite the opposite! They are not technically proficient instrumentalists, but Williams's songs are outstanding pieces, little fragments of pop that never overstay their welcome. And while his use of noise is definitely not new, he somehow manages to deconstruct even further the sounds of his noise-pop antecedents (Jesus & Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Guided By Voices) and his loud-as-hell minimalism is the most youthful, badass, refreshing music I've heard in ages.

Between two songs, Williams's phone started ringing. The audience, heckling him about his youth, asked if it was his mother. It was. For anyone nostalgic for the good old days of the early 80's, when second generation American punk was still pure, when it symbolized an alternative world for misfits just coming of age, Wavves may well be the greatest thing since the Wipers and Minor Threat. [MySpace]

Next up, the confusingly titled DD/MM/YYYY, a math-rock ensemble from Canada. Their jarring experimental sounds were heavy and fast, but despite that, I couldn't get interested, just annoyed. That's because a whole generation of bands, among them some of my favorite groups ever, played exactly this style of music - only way better - back in the early 90's. Any of these bands could kick DD/MM/YYYY's ass - June of 44, A Minor Forest, Chavez, Polvo, Rodan, Bastro and of course Slint, to name a few. But most of these 90's bands never got due credit and have been almost entirely forgotten in the years since their demise.

So, while DD/MM/YYYY may not be bad, they seem like a big step backwards to anyone versed in the history of this style of music. Yes, they play tightly through ever-changing time signatures, they make nice noises and slam out some sweet dissonance. But it's only a weak imitation of what came before. If you need to see this kind of music live, I guess it's the best you'll do. But on record, this is kid's stuff - hit up the old catalogues at Touch & Go and Quarterstick for the real deal. Trust me. [MySpace]

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