You could think of the Wedding Present’s songbook as one long last love letter to a girl who broke up with you in college.
And you do.
You think of it when you stumble on a used Peel Sessions EP cassette in 1992 and play it again and again on a long road trip, rewinding to David Gedge starting Orange Juice’s “Felicity” with the mysterious smirk, “This is a William Shatner number,” before crooning and swallowing vowels over a perfect clean guitar blur. You think this when you hear a Saturnalia song at 3 am in a goth club parking lot on the pirate radio station in 1998, the one about Montreal and distance and infidelity and falling out of love with someone the minute you realize you can’t live without them.
And you think of this in 2008, when you go to see them at the Black Cat.
You watch the Jealous Girlfriends, and you remember some good things about indie rock in the 1990s. It was all about repression back then, these shy bespectacled Proufrockers petrified of sex and of offending anyone or being seen as crude or ignorant building intricate “post-posts” into their pop music, fences. Nothing too emotional or animalistic was allowed to emerge, as bands subverted catharsis with throwaway lyrics and arbitrary musical pressure valves to release the tension of buildups to clichéd rock and roll moments. But if the music could overcome this tendency toward obfuscation and wannabe-jazz mannerisms it could explode into unapologetic 3-chord clouds like Velocity Girl or compress into soulful warbling like Jeff Buckley and his many imitators. At their best the Jealous Girlfriends eclectically recall both; burning midtempo head-shakers into cuddlecore distortion flare-ups or slowing down into bluesy Cat Power-esque hypnotic drones. At their worst they sound like every other band with a 718 area code on their cells and an Echo and the Bunnymen setting on their keyboards: lurching, ornate, disconnected. You hope that light beats dark in their sound eventually, not least because singer Holly Miranda looks like a woman who would follow you across the country to convince you to fall in love with and marry her, get bored after a month, join Cirque D’Soleil and reappear every five years to steal your weed and take your mother to breakfast.
The Wedding Present walk onstage and start without introduction or fanfare. They play some songs you remember and some songs you’ve never heard, but most of them you could have heard before, but you’re not sure. You think this must be the intended effect; there’s nothing arch or coy about Gedge’s songwriting approach, he talks directly to someone on every song and isn’t afraid of being clichéd in the slightest. You imagine a space alien humming along with “Spider-man on Hollywood” on his way towards Earth. Gedge hasn’t changed his approach at all since perfecting jangle-punk in the late 80s. It’s not a pose or a marketing scheme though. It’s just him being himself. Most people get crystallized around the age of 22, but some realize it sooner than others. The faster you figure out what the fuck it is that you’re all about the happier you’ll be. What are you all about? Is it sitting around staring into a silent telephone wondering why you didn’t say this or that? Is it remembering the worst times in a relationship nostalgically, walking around and around the dead arguments and lies like an unhealthy running track? Does listening to Gedge say things like “Seeing you with him is much better than not seeing you at all ” short-circuit this process or make it worse?
Who knows? There are some seriously rabid Wedding Present fans in the crowd.
The women are calling out “I want to kiss you!” and shimmying like go-go dancers. The men all look a little pained though, even when he plays their favorite song and they wave their arms in bliss they grimace and shake their heads ruefully at certain lines. The band rocks really hard: guitars flailing around on the bashy Britpop stuff and arms whipping through the jangling early stuff.
Calling it jangle is such a misnomer in your opinion.
The Byrds jangle. The Stone Roses jangle.
The Wedding Present SHREDS. They are the Eddie Van Halen of bar chords and tom toms. When they really get going you could happily listen to that riff for an hour straight–White Heat rumbling jungle beat and White Light two chord syncopated full arm up and down wrist-wrecking papercut guitar. You’ve never noticed how important the bass lines are to the sound until you can’t take you eyes off Terry De Castro. She whips her short hair into her face arhythmically and is hella cute, but you’re riveted by the open string rumbling and melodies that have been working on you for years without you knowing it. You can’t decide whether to sweat, cry, or flip them off spitefully, especially after they stop and Gedge says “That was Jangle-tastic wasn’t it?”
The superfans keep calling out songs and he says, “In all the years of seeing this band, have we ever played a request? We have 20 songs to remember already. That’s enough.” They keep doing it anyway. He says “Shouldn’t your Washington Redskins be called the Native American Skins? I’m just asking.” Some scattered booing. He says, “We LOVE playing in Washington DC” then grins unreadably. Some laughter. He says, “Thanks a lot this is our last song,” and sings a slow blaster that goes “You really don’t get it do you?” Is he singing to you? Do you get it? It’s hard to see how you don’t. You’ve been using his lyrics to make sense of the bitterness for almost two decades, you can’t imagine a time when you’d be so cheerful or unrepentant that the strife of early adulthood will seem unimportant, when a song that says what you always wanted to say–when she left or when you left and she didn’t care, or when you left each-other on good terms and it seemed like a good idea but then you see her in a Starbucks with a dude in a sport coat and you want to eat glass but not as much as you want to hear her voice saying your name–a song like that never goes out of fashion, if the clichés are cut with ambiguity, just as every relationship ends in sweetness and loss, and you’re never as in love with someone as when you realize they are going to leave you.
You should always keep in touch with your friends.
photos: Jealous Girlfriends by Raisa Patron, from last time, and Wedding Present from bbc.co.uk