26 Nov 2009: 93 Feet East London
As one of the underground music scene’s most covered characters in this year’s indie press, Nathan Williams of Wavves has been responsible for creating something of an indie media circus with celebrity magazine style stories of late night drunken bar brawls and apologies issued over struggles with alcohol and substance abuse. With this publicity, Williams may quite rightly feel he has something to prove to his many critics across the pond.
As Williams sound checks, idly strumming his guitar whilst muttering inaudibly somewhere in the vicinity of his microphone and gazing over the top of the crowd into the distance somewhere out at the back of a packed out room, memories of that uncomfortable show at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festiva come flooding back, and with it, the expectation that a crowd member’s footwear may be hurled at any time. As the band’s new bassist, Stephen Pope, formerly of Jay Reatard fame, asks the sound man “Yo! Could I get reverb on my mic, like, as much as possible? I’ve got a really bad voice and it’s like, embarrassing,” one seriously begins to wonder whether all the waiting will have been worth it.
Wavves, whose self titled debut gave voice to a disillusioned generation of youth with track titles like “I’m So Bored” and “No Hope Kids”, had up until this stage proved a far better proposition as a bedroom project. The night began as Wavves launched into “Beach Demons” with the same careless abandon that has quite probably helped get Williams into all his previous troubles, and the band wasted no time blasting straight into their very own brand of loser noise punk drenched in reverb and delay. Instantaneously this young guy from San Diego, California, has this generation, or at least the part packed into this Shoreditch venue, hanging on his every word.
Although I stood approximately four feet away from Williams himself, thanks in part to the intimacy of the venue and the small, barely raised stage, but also due to the volatile reaction of the crowd which surged towards the stage. Wavves may be one of the decade’s loudest performers alongside Hawkwind and My Bloody Valentine, and the reverb dripped from every crevice of the room. Upon first listen, you realize that within the barrage of noise you can barely hear Williams’ vocal, but that this might not really matter as he’s only saying “I’m So Bored” in repetition anyway.
Listen further to the confusion and you realize there are some distinctly catchy melodies amongst all the madness and some pretty neat, simple but effective lead guitar work from Williams himself hidden underneath all the fuzz. Strain to make out what he’s bellowing from beneath the hair stuck to his angst ridden face and lyrics like “I’m just a guy with nothing to do / I’m just a guy with something to say” strike you as somewhat more poignant than you might have first imagined, and, although you’re not entirely sure at all stages exactly what it is he does have to say, it at least portrays Williams as a poet of sorts, if only for the hyperactive MTV generation.
At some point during the fracas that has ensued in front of the stage an over-zealous member of the crowd stumbles, knocking into Williams’ equipment. At the close of the track he motions towards his pedals “Take it easy at the front here,” and the stumbling girl ambles off embarrassed before Williams apologetically states, “You don’t have to move, just watch the equipment.”
At the close of the show, it strikes me as to what relevance lyrics like “Got no car / Got no money / Got nothing / Nothing / Nothing / Not at all” might have following such wide success of Wavves’ record and the subsequent successful tour. With his very own tour van parked outside, Williams has however given himself the chance to push the angst-ridden noise punk of last year’s debut LP further, and the fact we now find ourselves speculating upon is whether the unpredictable front man will ever hit the stage without making the press for all the wrong reasons. The fact that he’s going out and killing live is an achievement in itself.
The argument as to whether this guy is a genius or contains any musical merit whatsoever has long ran out, and on the basis of tonight’s performance, it must be said that there is, definitely, hidden somewhere deep amidst all the delay, more depth to these songs about young life than many may like to give Williams credit. Tonight’s show certainly stands out as a triumphant, if somewhat, bruised return.