“Bonnaroo still likes rock ‘n’ roll, right?” asked Welles frontman Jeh-Sea Wells during the Nashville-based band’s Thursday afternoon That Tent kick-off show. This was just after a hat-trick of heavy, catchy tunes that harkened to sonic realms ranging from Nirvana to the Black Angels to Ben Kweller’s ‘90s grunge phase with Radish (the latter was especially apparent on “Codeine”, title track to the quartet’s debut EP released in April).
The question came off slightly cautious – perhaps Wells was all-too-aware of the Roo’s increasingly younger attendees, many of whom prefer EDM and darling indie acts. Yet the resounding cheers in response from an attentive throng of Bonnaroovians – who heartily head-banged along to those first few cuts – confirmed a lingering love for guitar-driven compositions and cutting Cobain-esque screams. The band’s passion for those raw elements was readily apparent and prevented songs like “Seventeen” (an homage to Radiohead’s “Creep” with a slight melodic twist) and psychedelic new single “Are You Feeling Like Me” from coming off derivative. Likewise, a cover of Father John Misty’s “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” could’ve proven a poor choice, but ramped up raucousness and a blood-curdling intonation inserted into the final refrain of “Someone’s gotta help me dig” shaded the rendition with a visceral, in-your-face energy that makes Welles a wonderfully authentic candidate to help lead the burgeoning resurgence of heavy bands. –David Brendan Hall