On a Wednesday night a few days after SXSW, Im at the Echo to see Wavves play a show in the bands adopted hometown. Joining them on the bill are Cheetah and FIDLAR, another set of petulant skate-punks who, in the pre-Wavves era, mightve been stuck playing Orange County all-ages clubs rather than scoring record deals and underground acclaim. For flashy young buzz bands of the Internet variety, the Echo has become the essential Los Angeles debut.
It has competition, especially in the neighborhood: the Satellite, the Bootleg, and the Silverlake Lounge all vie for these acts, but the Echo and its big brother, the Echoplex, typically outgun them. The venue has become the hub for a chain-smoking Sunset Blvd. scene that now includes Sage, an organic vegan restaurant; Masa, a pizza place that requires 45 minutes to bake its deep-dish creations; and El Prado, a craft beer and wine bar that makes the neighborhoods past PBR love affair feel like an ex you dont talk about. It still has taco trucks, though.
Its familiar ground for Wavves. Just after nine, the venue is a steamy hothouse of bros in hip-hop-endorsed snapbacks. A girl with a Blair Waldorf headband sits in the back, texting, but most have their eyes on the stage. At the door, there’s a no-crowd-surfing sign: I’ve never seen that in a hundred shows here, or the baseball caps. The power of Wavves in action. Outside, a handful of smokers take advantage of the patio. For once, the scene is at the actual scene.
This songs about rehab and how much it sucks! FIDLARs Zac Carper of FIDLAR says. Hes no Amy Winehouse, but he sings like hes had a lot of Red Bull. A kid runs on stage and lunges onto the shoulders of the audience, shouting back in Carpers face. “You guys excited about Wavves?” he asks between songs. They are. A seapunk girl bounces with the mosh pit, her shoulder-length blue hair shaking, while a bespectacled photographer struggles to hold his ground. The band closes with Wake Bake Skate as young men storm the stage. It’s sweaty and loud and a little dumb, but alive.
Wavves take the stage and set up gingerly in the wake of FIDLARs devastation. Williams, for once, is not wearing a hat. Pops hair explodes from under his beanie like curly cotton candy. Theyre nearly on time. The set is what people have come to hear: crunchy and heavy, like a Twix battering ram. Williams is too much a craftsman to pogo around the stage, head-banging only when space between vocals allows. The kids already know the new stuff, singing along as the chord changes of Demon to Lean On shove forward like blocks of cement. The crowd is less a mosh pit than a collection of synchronized bouncing balls. They love Wavves.
Maybe their crowds arent like this everywhere. But most evenings at the Echo involve stepping out back for a smoke break or conversations that cant wait until after. Not tonight. Perhaps all of Williams ambivalence is just savvy marketing: under-promise, over-deliver. Before we left breakfast, I asked him what kind of message he wanted Afraid of Heights to send.
I just I want anybody that feels similarly about any of the things I talk about, to feel like, O.K., somebody else feels that way, he said.
The first generation of U.S. punks thought their music was about being different, but they learned it was really about this. About being alone, together. Its a feeling thats not easy to harness, but Wavves has.
The show ends and the crowd buzzes, not ready to call it a night. I sit with friends and order apple pie at the Brite Spot, an Echo Park diner under competent but less charming new management. Its an hour later when I walk back to my car. The bands in front of the Echo, talking and smiling and, for the moment, visibly pleased to play in a rock band. Pope leans over an open car door, talking to Williams, who sits in the passenger seat as a pretty brunette presses the gas pedal. The car drives down Sunset Blvd., into the darkness. He can go wherever he wants.
David Greenwald (@daverawkblog) is a Los Angeles-based journalist and photographer. Currently, he’s a contributing editor for Billboard and also writes for The Atlantic, GQ, Los Angeles Times, and MTV Buzzworthy. Since 2005, hes covered music for his own site, Rawkblog, which has grown to include the Rawkblog Presents podcast and Playlist Club, a unique digital music service.
Photography by David Greenwald and Ted Maider; artwork by Steven Fiche and Cap Blackard.