Concert Review: Wavves and FIDLAR at Glasslands: 4/11/2013
Spring is in the air, concert season is in full swing, and 2bitmonkey is feeling good, loyal readers. It was a fantastic weekend in Brooklyn, one which allowed me to cross two Williamsburg gig spots off my bucket list and ending with an excellent record show. But more on that later.
In case you were wondering, Kent Avenue is alive and well. On Thursday night I made a pilgrimage to 289 Kent (better known as Glasslands) and then unexpectedly followed that up two nights later next door with my first visit to 285 Kent (known only as 285 Kent). For those unfamiliar with Glasslands, it’s a converted warehouse, which belies its teeny-tiny size, and which likes to think of itself as a place of “experimental artistry” but which really makes its bones as a music venue. Despite its meager size (I’d guess it fits 250 people tops), odd location in southeast Williamsburg and sub-optimal layout for live music, Glasslands manages to get some truly terrific acts, typically just before they become indie staples but sometimes even after they already have. Though I hadn’t been there before, I’d begun to think of Glasslands as being the 21st century/indie rock/Brooklyn answer to CBGBs in the 1970s. Over the past few years, Dum Dum Girls, Titus Andronicus, Cloud Nothings, the Vaccines, Django Django, Alt-J and Widowspeak have all played there, just to name some of my personal favorites. Thursday night featured surf-punk band Wavves, with supporting act FIDLAR, a show that could easily have sold out a larger local venue such as Music Hall of Williamsburg but felt at home in this intimate, sweaty, dive bar setting.
In the days and weeks leading up to the show I could not have been more excited. Unlike the Friends/Doldrums show at 285 Kent two nights later (review here), which I found out about and purchased at the last minute, I’d had these tickets for months and had it starred off as a show I wouldn’t miss. I’ve been a fan of Wavves for several years, owning both their debut LP and their breakthrough hit album King of the Beach on vinyl and seeking out great downloads like “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl” (from their Life Sux EP). In 2010 I was on the floor at Madison Square Garden for a great show by Phoenix and was one of the few who arrived early enough to catch Wavves as the first of two opening acts before the main set. MSG is probably the anti-Glasslands, but it didn’t matter – hits like “Green Eyes,” “King of the Beach” and “Idiot” rocked the large, mostly empty arena. Now the band has a new album out, released just two weeks ago and while I haven’t heard it all yet, the single “Demon to Lean On” is an indication that Afraid of Heights will be everything I could hope for – same great sound, a little more mature.
Meanwhile, FIDLAR is probably the perfect band to go on in front of Wavves. They may as well be Wavves little brother – a little more brash, a lot more crude. FIDLAR is one of the very few bands for which I actually eagerly awaited their debut LP, which I was since first hearing “Cheap Beer” and (the ironically titled) “No Waves” over a year ago. In a mostly complimentary review, Pitchfork says, “The L.A. skate-punk band FIDLAR don’t make music you’ll grow old with, and they won’t get an “A” for originality, but that’s not really the point.” I disagree. Yes they make loud music about drugs, beer, surfing and more drugs, but this is a smart, self-aware, clever, high-energy band to watch masking as a skate-punk band. And while it doesn’t quite reach the level of the near-perfect blue album (Weezer’s self-titled debut), FIDLAR (itself a self-titled debut) reminds me a lot of that band circa 1994, right down to the surfing references.
You can tell where I am going with this, right? An up and coming surf-rock band that I think is better than people realize, opening for another surf-rock band just hitting its stride, in a small Williamsburg venue that might quietly be the CBGB’s for my generation … this show had to go down as one for the ages. It has to. And yet, it was merely good. A show that, if I recall it at all, I’ll recall having enjoyed, but nowhere near what I’d hoped it would be.
What happened? FIDLAR was, as expected, LOUD. Very very loud. They filled the bar with 10,000 volts of energy. But it felt a little empty. When they concluded with one of my favorite songs off the LP, “Wake Bake Skate,” I wondered if maybe my initial impressions of the band were wrong. Maybe – and this would be such a massive disappointment – they are just another L.A. skate-punk band. A band can roll on the floor and curse and sing about drugs and beer and living the “fuck it dog” life and still end up being Weezer (this is a compliment in case you were wondering). However, it can also be one of FIDLAR’s other heroes, Blink 182 (and this is not a compliment). On this night in this venue I felt that they drifted towards the latter. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
As for Wavves, they delivered a great set that was punctuated by some awkward moments and god-awful acoustics. Having never been to Glasslands before Thursday night, I suspect that the bad sound was an anomaly. Otherwise it would never get the aforementioned caliber of indie band. I’m sure that it wasn’t me that was the anomaly though, as none other than Nathan Williams himself eventually became fed up with the sound. (Just in case you don’t know (and why would you?), Williams is Wavves. While the rest of the band changes, Williams is its sole constant.) Towards the end of the set – I believe it was the penultimate song – Williams launched into “Green Eyes,” easily the band’s most “musical” song. By that I mean that Green Eyes is softer, more melodic and more vocally driven – just a prettier song – than most of the Wavves catalog (though it remains distinctly Wavves-ian, which is why it is their best). After one or two verses Williams stopped short, complaining about the sound of the vocals. He was visibly annoyed. It seemed as if this was a problem he’d perceived all night but kept bottled up until he erupted when he saw how badly it ruined Green Eyes and he could take it no longer. The band then went into a prolonged sound check – strange at such a late stage of the show – which turned into a cover of Sublime’s “Santeria” (complete with obligatory crowd sing-along). The negative moment had the chance to be redeemed and spun into something great that happened organically, that everyone could walk away from with a smile. Instead, Williams appeared to lose it. Despite the similarities in their sound, I gather he is no fan of Sublime. Williams cut the cover short and launched back into Green Eyes, but at that point the hit song just fell flat.
Earlier in the show there were some real highlights, but again there was also enough awkwardness to undermine the full experience. The mid-point of the set featured “King of the Beach” and “Demon to Lean On” back to back in what was easily the show’s best stretch. As soon as King of the Beach started, the crowd was pushed to a higher energy level than it had been since the end of the FIDLAR set. Surprisingly the electricity was maintained through Demon to Lean On, despite it being a newly released song. Although the show was not even halfway done, my review of Wavves was already writing itself in my mind. “Wavves has vaulted itself into the upper echelon of up-and-coming indie rock bands. Their music has stayed close to its roots while evolving just enough with each successive album … I can’t wait to get my hands on Afraid of Heights, which I’m certain will be the band’s best offering yet.” Unfortunately, the rest of the night caused my anticipated mental review to be rewritten as it was filled with more awkward moments. Williams rejected the offer of a cigarette from an audience member with disdain; bassist Stephen Pope (formerly of Jay Reatard), sporting a mustache that made him look like a cross between Nick Offerman and Philip Seymour Hoffman in fictional ‘80s a hair-metal band (seriously – click on this), finally took the lit cig by default. There was a constant swell of moshers nearest to the stage, dancing as hard as they could and clearly having a good time from beginning to end (beginning of FIDLAR that is), but beyond them, where I stood, the crowd was a little subdued. Other reviews may have thought this was “one of the wildest, crowd-surfingest, beer-flinging shows I’ve been to in a long time” – this just wasn’t the case from my vantage point. And in such a small venue, there really shouldn’t be a subdued spot in the house. Maybe it’s because I expect better sound quality (and certainly better sight lines – what’s with the giant pillar?), but I’m not anxious to return to Glasslands. Meanwhile, I refuse to blame the uneven show on a couple of bands I still have a high affinity for. By all accounts, FIDLAR and Wavves tore it up elsewhere on their tour – from Chicago to Omaha to Arizona to Toronto.
So it must be Glasslands, about which I have a few final thoughts. Very recently they took down the “cloud” installation which had been there for several years and was considered “one of the most iconic backdrops in the NYC music scene.” I can’t disagree; the clouds looked amazing. I only wish I’d actually been there to see them. Or that whatever is to follow the clouds were up already. Because maybe then it would look like an art gallery. Right now, I don’t see it. All I see are exposed beams, cracked cement floors and a huge pillar in the middle of the floor, which might work for some but didn’t work for me. Two nights later I found myself in an equally low-rent venue which pulled off the minimalist, even dirty, style of cool without sacrificing quality. Maybe Glasslands’ cool got “lost in the clouds” … maybe I needed to be in the balcony, or closer to the stage … all I know is that I wish Wavves and FIDLAR had been at Music Hall of Williamsburg instead. Or even Terminal 5. Wow, never thought I’d say that.
Also, if you want to know how awesome Demon to Lean On is live, check out this video of Wavves recent appearance on Letterman.
Tomorrow … my review of Friends playing 285 Kent.
 Which Stereogum called “arguably the best fuck-shit-up anthem we’ve heard since Waka Flocka Flame’s ‘Hard In Da Paint’.” I don’t know what that means, but somehow I agree.
 As it turns out, the references to Wavves are not an accident, as indicated in the Pitchfork review of FIDLAR. I’m proud to say I made the connection between the two bands before being hit over the head with it.
 This is a distinct possibility. I saw Weezer in 1994 or ‘95 and to this day I remember it as an amazing show. But it’s nearly 20 years later and maybe it’s me that’s different, not the music. Maybe FIDLAR is, in 2013, exactly like Weezer was in 1994. And maybe 16 year old me would have thought this was the best show he’d seen in a long time. I don’t think so, but I’m not entirely ruling it out.