I remember when Wavves’s King of the Beach came out in the summer of 2010. Wavves was the perfect band for me at the time: they had all the melody and fun of bratty pop-punk, but balanced snotty singalongs with trippier, psychedelic haze. They were somewhere between the critically-lauded experimental indie rock that I wanted to love, and the three-chord power-pop bands that I really did love. I thought they were the peak of careless cool.
Based on their performance at Bailey Hall on April 8, they’ve lost this quality. Overall, the show was pretty limp, although I’m not entirely sure how much of this was due to the venue versus the band. Wavves played a tight, if not especially energetic set, although bassist Steven Pope deserves praise for managing to whip his long, Zeppelin-esque hair around on-beat for the entire hour. Williams’s voice sounded a bit thinner live, but still carried the few slower songs they played. Nonetheless, the show felt dead. It didn’t help that Wavves eschewed the variety of their catalogue and played almost only one type of song — three-chord pop-punk jams, which are great for about 15 minutes but after that need more contrast than Wavves provided.
I saw Wavves play in 2011 at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, on a tour with Best Coast — Williams and Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast dated for years and frequently collaborated — and the setting suited them much better than Bailey did. Wavves need a space where the audience can mosh and crowd-surf, not one where the General Admission area consists of rows of seats and the specter of an empty auditorium surrounds the show.
Frontman Nathan Williams has always walked a thin line between relatable spitefulness and outright douchery, and he leaned a bit towards the latter during the show. When he spoke to the crowd, it was always with a sort of condescending sarcasm; when he asked what the Cornell mascot is, he responded, “What the fuck are you talking about?” to somebody’s indiscernible response. Maybe all of this was part of the act, part of what Wavves can do to help keep the spirit of punk alive, but it felt more like genuine disinterest in the show and even in the music they had to play. None of the the members said or did much to indicate that they were there for anything more than a check at the end. The second guitarist notably did nothing except stand stock-still and play the entire time, like a terrified junior-high kid with a Fender Starcaster playing “Smoke on the Water” in a seventh-grade talent show. Even if it’s a fiction when bands pretend to be playing for the love of performing, it begins to feel like a necessary fiction when the band doesn’t pretend at all.
On the other hand, the show’s best moment was a result of the band’s irony. After concluding the show with “Green Eyes,” one of their standout songs, the sound abruptly cut to the swelling chorus of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as the band scurried offstage. The contrast between the song’s overblown sincerity and Wavves’s sardonic coarseness was genuinely hilarious.
Wavves are often a very good band in the studio, and I know from experience that they can translate that energy into a live show. It was demoralizing to see them so out of their element, and so disinterested in trying to overcome that. Hopefully, if they come to Ithaca again, they’ll play at the Haunt, where they might put on a killer show. At Bailey, the show simply happened.
Jack Jones is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.