“Can I curse, is that okay?” lead singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner asked coyly, acknowledging that her band Wye Oak‘s performance was being streamed live on NPR Music’s Web site. Wasner didn’t seem sure of her footing and wanted someone “with authority” to tell her, because she was smart enough to know what the response of a crowd at an indie-rock show would be.
“I don’t know about you guys, somebody back there,” Wasner said, at least half-seriously. All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton, filling in that night for regular host Bob Boilen, shrugged off the question at first, then gave Wasner an affirmative from more than halfway across the dark venue’s checkered floor.
“Am I allowed? Thumbs up? Okay…” she confirmed. “Shiiiit.”
Her elongated use of the vowel couldn’t help but recall fellow (but fictional) Baltimore native Clay Davis, the silver-tongued politician from the HBO series The Wire, possibly the seminal work of modern Baltimore legend. It’s all too appropriate that Wasner, the indie guitar darling of the night, would bring a little Bmore swagger an hour down the Interstate, as Friday night was all about three of the city’s best new bands at a sold out show at The Black Cat in Washington D.C.
Lands and Peoples kicked off the show with its soft-loud dynamics and killer bass lines, which thrived both in the pocket and higher in the mix. The band’s hooks and guitar riffs recalled the garbled pop of Pixies and the sprawling, muscular rock of Sonic Youth or, more recently, Deerhunter. The trio cast an almost post-rock/shoegaze sonic shadow over the crowd at moments, changing in tone, mood and volume distinctly but held onto, sometimes barely, a solid pop song structure. With just one self-titled EP to its name (and a full length on the way), Lands and Peoples (who is playing South by Southwest this week) is a band to watch.
Photo by Stephen Diroll
A mea culpa: I didn’t come for Wye Oak like everyone else at the show seemed to. I came for Lower Dens. The band’s wonderful album Twin Hand Movement is a worthy foil to fellow Baltimore band Beach House’s considerably more-hyped and deservedly praised Teen Dream, which are mirror images of each other, in a sense. It’s not hard to see why the two bands, and their sounds, share not just a city of residence but also a strong aesthetic kinship. Lower Dens provide a gritter, groovier blueprint for its brand of shoegaze while, like Beach House, keeps things airy (Tea Lights) but continually dark and driving (the muscular instrumental that closed the band’s 45-minute set, Holy Water).
Then there were two: Wasner and Andy Stack, also known as Wye Oak. The duo has quietly and quickly grown into an indie success story, signing with Merge Records in 2008 and quickly reaching a new plateau in its career by selling out the The Black Cat, a venerable D.C. music institution, on Friday night. Wye Oak is one of the youngest bands on Merge’s roster but you wouldn’t know it from its new album Civilian, its fourth release in as many years. Wasner said that Friday was the duo’s first show playing Civilian‘s songs live since the record had come out, causing the band to revel in the songs, playing virtually the entire record, a mature work of R.E.M.-inspired country feedback, the vulnerable folk rock and guitar heroics of Neil Young and the intimate despondence of Yo La Tengo.
If anyone ever needed proof that Charm City bands are killing it on the indie circuit right now, they need have only snagged one of this show’s hot tickets. For once, the echo chamber-like blog hype of a city’s worth of new, invigorating music is actually justified. And that couldn’t be more welcome.
Wye Oak setlist:
Hot As Day
Take It In
That I Do
We Were Wealth
I Hope You Die
Photography by Stephen Diroll.
Gallery by Stephen Diroll