Wavves Returns -- and Doesn't Freak Out

wavves-ian-witlen.jpg
Nathan Williams, April 2009 / Photo courtesy Ian Witlen
WRITTEN BY
Rob Wohl

The last time the up-and-coming noise-surf-punk project Wavves played in public, some six weeks ago at Spain's Primavera Sound Festival, singer-guitarist Nathan Williams had a spectacular, drug-fueled meltdown -- insulting the audience, fighting with drummer Ryan Ulsh, storming off stage, and canceling his European tour.

Then just a few days ago, Williams broke his wrist skateboarding.

So Wavves -- Williams, joined live by Ulsh -- had a lot to prove Wednesday night at New York City's Bowery Ballroom, in their first U.S. appearance since Primavera.

After strong opening sets by buzzmagnets POPO, Real Estate, and Woods, there was a moment of tension as Williams and Ulsh took the stage -- dressed in t-shirts, skinny jeans, and torn up Chuck Taylors -- looking around uncertainly.

Then they kicked into "Beach Demon," stripping away its sunny Beach Boys-ish vocal harmony, creating old-fashioned Southern California hardcore, complete with a refrain of "going nowhere, going nowhere, going nowhere, ooooh."

The night's tone was set: breakneck speed, deafening volume, and appealing exuberance. The crowd loved it.

The show continued its departure from the stoned, often-sleepy mood of Wavves' records. The reverb- and feedback-drenched tunes all got a lot more focused. Williams shout-sang passionately. Ulsh's muscular drumming propelled slow songs that can sometimes meander, like "Side Yr On." And the faster tunes, "No Hope Kids," "Summer Goth," "Wavves," became downright anthemic.

Williams didn't say much aduring the fast-paced 45 minute set -- and what he did say was mostly incomprehensible because of all the effects pedals the vocals were being run through.

At one point he seemed realize that no one understood him, briefly switched off the reverb, and quipped, "Here, this is what I really sound like," before tearing into a new song.

He never mentioned his Spanish meltdown, though he did restrain from belting down beers -- sipping iced tea instead. In good spirits, he even let one lucky fan have his Chicago Bulls cap.

The crowd rewarded Williams' graciousness with overwhelming enthusiasm.

Half the room was a pit, and there were at-least a dozen stage divers. At the show's climax, a rousing sing along rendition of "So Bored," Williams and hundreds of rapturous fans hollered "I'm soooooooooooo bored" over and over.

But they were liars -- they were having the best kind of fun.

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