Beards, Blazers & Glasses or So Quoth The Wrens: Age Ain't Nothing But a Number Nevermore
The Wrens are old. This was the first thought that went through my mind as I saw saw them perform last Friday night at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Of course, old is a relative term, but in rock terms the band is practically geriatric. The youngest of them is 36, the oldest is 43. Only one does not need Rogaine. They more closely resemble a tribe of 7th grade chemistry teachers rocking covers of "Louie Louie" on the weekends than indie elder statesman.
Despite their longevity, I'd never seen them live, nor had I even listen to their music until 2003's The Meadowlands, an album that I initially disliked. It was only after multiple listenings and learning of the Wrens backstory, did the album take hold, layers revealing themselves with each world-weary spin. Plus, I imagine it's the kind of album that makes more sense to you at 40.
But initially, slow was the only word that came to mind during the first 15 minutes of the set as Wrens lead guitarist Charles Bissell rambled out alone to play six or seven somnulent minutes worth of scratchy guitar riffs looped over and over. Thankfully, the other three members of the band joined him and the energy of the set spiked rapidly. Meanwhile, I couldn't take my mind off my conclusion that Wrens co-lead singer and bassist Kevin Whelan looked eerily similar to a Ron Burkle, while Bissell resembled the indie rock version of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. This resemblance turned uncanny during the middle of the set when a teenaged girl stormed the stage (along with 20 others) and started trying to freak Bissell, whispering sweet-nothings in his ear. Weird.
Random Wrens Ho Asking Charles Bissell if He'd Bathe her in a Bathtub Filled With RosesI'm still not sure why the Wrens decided to have the crowd rush the stage mid-set, considering it made the next eight songs feel a bit anti-climactic. Either way, the energy bandied about reminded me most of The Hold Steady. Like Craig Finn and co., The Wrens aren't spring chickens (though to paraphrase Woody Allen: Craig Finn's immaturity gives him a youthful quality) and both inspire extreme almost god-like devotion from their fans, as they perform live sets that veer close to transcendent bar-rock.
Practically every member of the mostly young audience knew every lyric by heart. Like the Hold Steady, the Wrens wear their fan appreciation on their sleeves: holding the mic stand off-stage to let the crowd sing-along, issuing repeated thank-yous, and putting on an incredibly energetic and passionate set. Even the toughest critics were moved to declare that the show was one of those "rare moments where you think everything will be alright for humanity." And it was tough to disagree, watching the audience erupt in adulatory cheers as Bissell sent wiry and vicious guitar chords into the dim lights and wide eyes of the crowd.
By day Kevin Whelan Leads a Fortune 500 Company Under the Alias, Ron Burkle: By Night he Fronts The Wrens, the Unluckiest Band in Indie RockThe energy level and dedication from the band made their live show impossible to deny. On some level, you just have to admit that these guys are awesome that in their mid-40s they're they're still capable of bringing a level of ruckus that shames bands half their age. For sure, it's strange to see guys who've probably just helped their daughters solve algebra equations 15 minutes prior to going on-stage. But it says legions about a band to have stuck together for this long and to have developed such a powerful union with their fans.
While I'm not about to become president of their fan club anytime soon, The Wrens are most certainly a good band, with a great live presence. It's times like this when I think that maybe the noted poet/philosopherAaliyah was right. Perhaps age really ain't nothing but a number. And really, if you can't trust Aaliyah, who can you trust?
Check For Wrens Tour Dates Here
Download free Wren's MP3's Here and get even more at Audio Deficit Disorder
Also check out both Floating Away and The Rawking Refuses to Stop for their takes on the performance.
Asobi Seksu: Just Like Deerhoof, If Deerhoof Was Good
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the opening act, Asobi Seksu, who delivered an outstanding 45 minute set on Friday night. Led by sprightly front-woman Yuki, singing both English and Japanese with a haunting ghostlike voice, the band successfully merged hard driving post-punk riffs with ethereal white shoegaze noise. Resembling a cross-section of Deerhoof and Serena Maneesh (except much better) Asobi Seksu's catchy but complicated songs more than adequately prepped the already-packed crowd for the Wrens and are worth seeing in their own right. All gauzy reverb and pounding frenetic bass, the songs from this year's very solid Citrus album carried an added weight live and proved why Asobi Seksu won't be an opening act for much longer.
Asobi Seksu: "Mizu Asobi" from Citrus (right-click, save as)
Check for more free Asobi Seksu MP3's and tour dates on their Myspace.