all words: William Alberque
all great photos: Julian Vu
Some concerts just make you feel privileged to be there; Wild Nothing on Saturday night at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel was one of them.
I can never predict when a band I love will play to a sold-out house, or to a half-empty cavern. I would have predicted, if asked, that Wild Nothing would be a little sparse. Not empty, mind, but certainly not heaving. Perhaps helped by timing – Saturday night – and the continuing healthy press, including top ten albums of 2011 shouts by Other Music, Stereogum, and Rough Trade, the Rock’n’Roll Hotel was packed wall-to-wall in anticipation of their return to the DC stage.
The bill was interesting – local heroes Deleted Scenes kicked off the night with Robert Fripp-esque guitar and chiming bass over very aggressive drums, and singer Dan Scheuerman’s assured singing. Scheuerman’s vocal control is impressive, with a distinctive yelp and a mastery of range that you don’t see too often in local indie bands.
Their rather muscular take on indie rock – especially the drums – is sometimes overwhelming, with Foo Fighter-esque fills and some real violence done to the drumkit – a la David Narcizo. In fact, the overall effect of the band harkens to a male-fronted Throwing Muses. Key track: “Day Off Work” – quite good.
Abe Vigoda were on next, and I was very interested to hear their sound – it’s such a jarringly bad band name. The vocals are distinctive and call to mind Win out of Arcade Fire. The music for some reason (the bass, certainly) reminded me of an indie-rock Japan, with strong melodies and slippery bass lines, while icy guitar and keyboards filled in the spaces and danced through the very danceable songs.
Without fore-knowledge of their music, I found myself drifting back to the bar – I was in the minority in doing so – most people seemed to really enjoy them. To be fair, I was just waiting for the main act.
Having missed Wild Nothing (I’m so tempted to add an “s”!) the last few times they were in town (opening for Stars at 930, headlining at DC9), I was not sure what to expect – would it be like Radio Dept., with backing tracks recorded and focused on the “Cloudbusting”-esque atmospherics? Or would it be more like the Mary Onettes, with a full band playing a full sound, full-bore?
When they took the stage, I was quite pleased to see that Jack Tatum’s (largely solo) project (see John Foster’s excellent interview) came with a full band, and that they immediately and thrillingly exceeded any expectations I had.
The music was lush and full, with chiming, ringing guitars and wooshing bass lines, creating a “Friday I’m in Love” mood (though without the attendant schlocky verbal ticks of the excellent Mr. Smith) that rarely slackened, rather thrilling and winning the audience from the opening notes. Each song by Wild Nothing is immensely hook-laden – a fact you can get by listening to “Summer Holiday” or “Golden Haze,” and live, they are immense. The New Order-esque swoop to the bass line in “Your Rabbit Feet,” the Technique-era bounce to “Gemini” – truly, this was a night to savor. Personal favorite “Vultures Like Lovers” hung in the air like a succulent fruit and has been on repeat in my memory for the 36 hours hence.
Tatum’s vocal delivery sounds in person like a gentler and more wistful Ian Crause (Disco Inferno), and the vocals were nicely and precisely placed in the mix – not drowned as they are occasionally on the record – and the audience (if any doubters were among them at the start) was completely won over by the end.
If there is a relevant criticism of the prolific Mr. Tatum (two 7”s, an EP and an LP in under a year is pretty impressive – and available here), it’s that the songs are a bit samey and come off on record as needing a bit of energy shot into them. Live, I would brook no such criticism – each track benefits enormously by the full band treatment, and I am staggered as they go from song to song with such incredible aplomb.
I was joined by a bunch of people in shouting out for their stellar and audacious Kate Bush cover (the aforementioned “Cloudbusting”), but Tatum quickly informed us that they were not set up to play it. I was saddened, but satisfied with his answer and impressed with the immediate, clear, and logical way he disposed of it and got back to the show.
I wish I could give you a set list (and lord, I was hoping there would be one for my collection), but they didn’t have any. I was far too busy dancing and enjoying myself to make notes on which songs were played (and, frankly, some of them are a little hard to tell apart).
Tatum, afterwards, was generous with my completely rambling and incoherent praise (see above), and I was kicking myself for not having anything for him to sign. Next time, they will certainly be playing the 930 Club, and deservedly so. In short, I found myself utterly thrilled to have been there – lucky, really – because it was an early contender for live show of the year.