[27 January 2009]
There are no New Hampshire shows on Wild Light’s upcoming 29-gig tour with Tapes ‘N Tapes. The closest they will come is Boston, with their songs of frozen streets and lonely homes on hills, and Boston is not the same thing at all. In fact, they will spend a lot more time in California than New England. This is despite the fact that they are on the record (the record Adult Nights actually, due out on StarTime this March) saying “Fuck California.”
So this evening, a make-up show for a very snowy night last December, is the last time they’ll be playing their home state for a while. It’s not exactly a local gig, since the four Wild Lights are from Manchester, an hour and a half east. And they’re not just a “local band” anymore, if they ever were. They’ve toured Europe with Arcade Fire (bass/keyboard/guitar player Tim Kyle was a founding member of Arcade Fire). They’ve won “Outstanding Rock Act of the Year” at the 2008 Boston Music Awards and earned mention as one of the LA Times’ “Bands to Watch”. Still, despite these accolades, there is a warm, friendly, low-key feel to the concert—a good thing, since it is damned cold outside.
The show gets going a little late, because the local classic rock radio station is having some sort of raffle-and-free-drinks bacchanalia that runs over time. From the front lobby, you can hear the announcer calling out numbers for car washes and $50 gift certificates to restaurants and heating oil coupons. “It’s hard to compete with people who are giving away free heating oil,” I observe to one of the guys who booked the show, and he rolls his eyes and nods. But finally, the radio people stagger out into the cold, clutching their loot and a much younger crowd starts to gather.
The first band is Birdfeeder, a four-piece with the standard two guitar, bass, and drum line-up. A friend (who has a better feel for the local scene) tells me that Birdfeeder has been around for a decade or so, with a changing line-up. The current iteration, he says, is the best yet. Perhaps it’s that long lifespan, and frequently shifting membership, that accounts for the diversity of this band’s material. Over the course of the performance, I find myself writing down 12 different band names: Jane’s Addiction, Centro-Matic, Drive-By Truckers, Television, Allman Brothers, the Big Sleep, the BellRays (without Lisa Kekaula), Black Helicopter, Interpol, Pele, Citay, and Led Zeppelin (the band leader brings this up, and I have my doubts). Their earlier material, “a Facebook favorite” song, seems to have come out of emo and punk, but their later, better stuff has the 12/8 swagger of Americana-tinged rock. There are psychedelic jams and shreddy guitar solos. The singer insists on a bit of delay in the vocals, but “not like Perry Farrell.” It’s a solidly entertaining show, though hard to get a handle on, and better than a dozen or so big name openers I can recall.
Then it’s Wild Light. That’s Jordan Alexander, a skinny guitarist with shaggy hair and tattoos running up his arms, Tim Kyle, the dark-haired, wry-smiling keyboard player, Seth Pitman the blond bass player, and Seth Kasper, a pale, mop-haired drummer. At least that’s where they start. Except for Kasper, they all play bass, guitar and keyboard interchangeably, and all three take a turn singing before the night is over.
This evening, and perhaps always, Wild Light conveys a sense of embarking on a journey, of leaving home and heading for parts unknown. Early on, they juxtapose two of their best songs, one a frustrated love song about a girl who leaves town (“California on My Mind”), the other a tribute to the frozen familiarity of home (“New Hampshire”). “California”, with its big four-on-the-floor beat and triumphant guitar chords sounds like a romp, even though the lyrics are sad. Guitarist Alexander is suppressing a grin as he sings the buoyant tagline, “Fuck today, fuck San Francisco, fuck California.” “New Hampshire” balances a melancholy, nostalgic verse with uplifting chorus. The body of the song enumerates local landmarks—a fork in the road where a car crashed, a childhood house with three generations of history—but the refrain loops and soars wordlessly, braced by strident, pushing drums.
Later, the band will spend a good deal of time looking back—recalling frozen streets in “Heart Attack”, feeling the distance between the road and loved ones in “Call Home”—but always with the implied optimism that better things lie ahead.
There’s a lot of instrument switching. For “Lawless River”, both Kyle and Pitman play keyboards, starting with silvery music box tones and evolving gradually into a fluid new wave-y sound. Kyle takes the vocals on this one, punching out staccato lyrics in the verse then turning melodic and soulful—Scritti Politti comes to mind—as the song crests. It’s a compelling mix of rough and smooth, rather like the sight of Kyle, after the song finishes, decanting a can of PBR into a nice glass.
Pitman, the bass player, takes over singing for the serene “Future Towns”, his voice sweet and smooth and a bit like Chris Difford of Squeeze. “Heart Attack”, next, picks up the intensity, a thudding bass line driving elegiac verses about wintry streets and empty train tracks. “Canyon City” chimes with keyboards, pulses with bass, soars with vocal counterparts. It moves up and out and forward, musically. Yet it also looks backwards, asking “Where do we belong?” wistfully and seeking to reclaim failed love.
Like all good pop, Wild Light’s songs are open to multiple interpretations… on the record they are clearly melancholy, yet live they are celebratory enough to dance to. Latching onto this exuberance, people have moved onto the tiny square of wooden floor by the end of the show. There are a good dozen of them out there at the peak, throwing up their arms and dancing. The band seems to feed off this energy. After the last official song, Pitman is grinning. “This is by far the best reception we’ve ever gotten,” he says, gesturing to the dance floor. “It’s like Footloose.”
So there is a short break and then two encore songs, one from the album, one brand new, one laced with exuberant “Hey! Hey! Hey!”s and one subtle and keyboard driven. Like the rest of the show, these two songs seemed to be at once about the excitement of the future and the uncertainty of leaving home, a bittersweet blend that makes Wild Light well worth seeing.