Monday, November 23, 2009

Lights That Flash in the Evening: The Wrens @ Black Cat (11-20-09)

The Wrens came to the Black Cat last Friday as a little outing prior to their three big shows coming up the first weekend in December at Maxwells in Hoboken, NJ. Ever since discovering them at SXSW last year where I was knocked plumb off my feet from their incredible passion and power, I've made it a point to see them wherever I could. So them playing where I don't have to travel for it? Bonus!

As those Maxwells shows include a set of fan requests, a set of their entire amazing opus, The Meadowlands, and a set of new compositions, the DC show's set list was a little insight into what's to come, all tucked into their typical energetic and vigorous playing. I'm truly hoping "Leaves Ground" finds its way into the "new compositions" set at Maxwells; full of Whelan's piano, his brother's keening guitar and Bissell's loops, it's one I found on par with "13 Grand" from The Meadowlands " or "Safe and Comfortable" from Secaucus, utterly gorgeous.

While the show was great, there were a few mishaps. The sound was....well, I'll put it this way: I saw the Ramones in 1991 and the only way I could tell the difference between one song and the next was by the "1, 2, 3" that was yelled out. This show seemed a lot like that. The Wrens are a loud band, granted, and while not loud enough so that I didn't know what song was playing, their sound this night was somehow garbled enough that I couldn't tell you words at times (and I even inquired to people who were standing in front of the sound guy who said the same thing). "North to Nothing" is a favorite so I "knew" it, but at the Cat, it sounded like "khiuhiyhhihihaaaaa," I'm sad to say.

Lead guitarist Greg Whelan also had equipment issues onstage. Whelan's stage presence is the complete opposite to the human pogo stick that is his brother, singer/bassist Kevin Whelan, but when the jack on his baritone guitar cut out after the first chorus of "This Boy is Exhausted," the audience watched as the guitar went sailing to the back of the stage. (Happily, it survived to play another day.)

(The guitar just before it went airborne ...)

Probably the sweetest moment of the night was when lead singer/bassist Whelan pulled a young boy of about 10 from the audience to hit the keys during "This Is Not What You Had Planned," the last song on The Meadowlands.

At one point, Whelan asked the kid his name ("Theron") and asked the crowd to give him props. How cool must have this 10 year old kid felt hearing an entire club chanting his name? (I found out later though that his actual name was "Darren," and Whelan had obviously misheard him above the din.) Didn't matter though, the kid was beaming. $10 says you see this kid onstage somewhere in a few years.

(During "Exhausted" I think, I kept noticing singer/guitarist Charles Bissell standing up on his toes like this repeatedly as he sang. Maybe that's a new singing technique for extra power or...something?)

(See the rest of the photos from the show here)

The Wrens have been around for 20 years now and they exert more energy in three songs than many bands half that age exert in three shows. It makes you wonder how many cases of Red Bull their rider includes. Whatever it is, it's fantastic, and consistently makes for an incredible and explosive show.

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