Wavves, Warpaint Rock SPIN's L.A. Year in Music Party

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Wavves' Nathan Williams / Photo by Erik Voake
WRITTEN BY
Kevin Bronson

It was a year when new music sparked and exploded, and SPIN's Year in Music party on Tuesday night at the Music Box Theatre in Los Angeles served up two of the best newcomers: San Diego surf punks Wavves and L.A. art rockers Warpaint.

The festivities, presented by New Era and RD.io, and stocked with complimentary mike's HARD PUNCH®, featured a brash headlining set from Wavves, whose midsummer release King of the Beach, combined with thrill-a-minute live shows, made them one of 2010's breakout bands.

Frontman Nathan Williams and his wrecking crew of bassist Stephen Pope (formerly of late punk Jay Reatard's band) and drummer Jacob Cooper (formerly of the L.A. spazz-pop outfit the Mae Shi) inherited a stage left smoldering by the pulsing, atmospheric post-rock of Warpaint, who were as cool and detached as Wavves were engaging and smirky.

Armed with batch of songs that largely celebrate his persona as enfant terrible, Williams kept his trio's set light-hearted and loud, bantering with a handful of dancing invitees and lobbing barbs at his bassist. "All these songs are about my good friend Stephen," he said, and later, "This is a song about Stephen's hair." For his part, Pope -- unruly hair and all -- took a timeout mid-set to strike funny rock-star poses for the photographers up front.

When they were playing, though, Wavves' noisy surf-punk was all serious and sharp-toothed and roaring. Pope coaxed all manner of toxic noises out of his bass, while Williams wailed and new drummer Cooper abused his kit.

"My own friends hate me / But I don't give a shit," Williams sang in "Green Eyes," and no matter whether there's any truth in that, it was clear from Wavves' 50-minute set that the frontman cares about delivering the goods.

Sandwiched between two DJ sets featuring the maverick stylings of Stones Throw Records main man Peanut Butter Wolf, Warpaint's painterly music would have put the whole theater in a trance were it not for the thunderous underpinning laid down by drummer Stella Mozgawa. Her rhythms, counterposed against the ghostly vocals of guitarists Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal, gave the songs from the quartet's Rough Trade debut The Fool a supercharged anxiety.

Warpaint's reverb-laden guitars and bass bury their melodies in a thicket of echo, but at certain moments -- during Kokal's eyes-closed pleading on the song "Warpaint" and her plaintive admission in the chorus of "Undertow" -- the layers peel away to reveal something saccharine, or at least as sweet as the foursome gets. It is in those fleeting moments, as Warpaint's hometown crowd at the Music Box was reminded on Tuesday, that the foursome's slow burn becomes a flash fire.

Wavves' setlist:
To the Dregs
King of the Beach
Idiot
Wavves
Friends Were Gone
Green Eyes
Take on the World
No Hope Kids
Linus Spacehead
Beach Demon
Super Soaker
So Bored
Post Acid
Warpaint's setlist
Bees
Stars
Composure
Undertow
Warpaint
Majesty
Elephants

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