I will be honest, I tried to stay away from seeing the same acts multiple times while at SXSW. I failed twice. Once, when I saw Francobollo a second time, but I was there for an interview. The second time was this day, and I have no problem saying that I came to this show to see Wavves for a second time in two days. I have no shame. Nathan Williams is my spirit-animal, don’t @ me. In fact, after this show, I tried to go see him a third time the next day at the Showtime House. Except, it was also Shameless day there, so Kev and V from the show were bartending, and it was St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m Irish. Obviously, I had plenty of excuses on hand in case anybody wanted to call me a Wavves stan, which I am, but I still don’t want to be called one. On top of all of that, this day party actually had a pretty decent line-up; Cut Worms and Girl Ray, were both acts that I finally had the opportunity to see thanks to this show, so at the risk of sounding like a stan, I think I made the right decision.
The Brooklyn-based band reminds me of a weird mix of Jim Croce and Kurt Vile. Both amazing song-writers in their own right, Croce a little more folksy, Vile a little more lo-fi. How Cut Worms differs is bringing an ominous sort of reverb to their tracks. All I can imagine is the last cowboy on the range, riding his horse alone as the sun rises. It’s both beautiful and achingly depressing. I feel like this sums up the sort of feeling I had walking inside the Mohawk to see the band perform. That is the sort of feeling I walked away with after watching their set. The lead singer awkwardly hugged the microphone stand, utterly emotionless as he sang his songs, with the twang of country musicians of the past. I couldn’t quite recognize any of their songs from my limited listening to the group prior to their set, but I do remember thinking this was a band I could really enjoy. Slow and solemn was the name of the game for their performance, but that by no means it was less than satisfactory. Their performance was just about what would be expected of a band that you listen to when you wake up from a hangover on a hell on a poolside chair with floaties still attached to your arms. I would say the biggest highlight for me during their set was when the band performed “Til Tomorrow Gets Away,” a single from their forthcoming album, Hollow Ground. Their sound is both nostalgic and fresh, a blend that is often sought after, but seldom executed to the degree that Cut Worms are able to do. A solid set from a band that is sure to start making some waves in what has been a silent pond.
Hailing from North London, Girl Ray was another band that stuck out to me through the 2,000+ artists that were featured on the SXSW Music Festival lineup. Their sound, much like other artists I saw during the week, was lo-fi indie pop, with tongue-in-cheek song writing. What stuck out to me were the folsky southern-rock guitar tones and the soaring vocals of front-woman, Poppy Hankin. Despite the slow moving groove of most of their songs, the group was able to get the crowd to slowly sway along. I think that the only thing that mattered was that the folks on stage were having a good time. They’d look at each other smile, and start laughing. A notable point of laughter was when the bassist needed a tissue, an audience member obliged, while the rest of the band laughed. I have to admit that I was not as familiar with Girl Ray’s music as I would have liked to have been prior to their set, but I was able to recognize a couple songs that they performed, including “Stupid Things,” a song about doing things you ordinarily wouldn’t to impress a love interest, as well as “Trouble,” both of which appeared on the group’s full-length debut, Earl Grey. Girl Ray is now in heavy rotation in my personal playlists because of their performance. The songs are catchy, emotional, and pleasant. I don’t like to use that adjective when describing music because it feels like it’s saying the music is passable. In this context, it’s the sort of music that I think I’ll be able to listen to in 40 years and tell my grandchildren about when I saw them in a small room with 80 other people.
ROUND TWO…FIGHT. That phrase can accurately describe the mood of the second Wavves @ SXSW set that I was able to catch at the Mohawk, which front-man, Nathan Williams, will tell you is one of his favorite venues in the States. I can see why. From the get-go, bodies were flying around, and I didn’t stop until Nathan himself was riding the wavves of fans. See what I did there? Okay, I’m sorry, I’ll stop now. Wavves opened their set just as they had the previous night, moving up “King of the Beach,” to their second song, removing “Take on the World” from the set-list. Deviating further from the previous night, the band played “Daisy,” and the titular track from the group’s latest release, You’re Welcome. The next trio of tracks, “Demon to Lean On,” “My Head Hurts,” and “Animal,” from Afraid of Heights, V, and You’re Welcome, respectively, all were performed again. Next was “Million Enemies,” the lead single from Wavves’ latest album, followed by “No Shade.” The final trio of songs was the same as the StubHub showcase the night before, “Sail to the Sun,” “Post Acid,” and “Green Eyes.” The finale was definitely a doozy. After the first verse of “Green Eyes,”Williams delicately set his guitar down, climbed the ladder inexplicably placed on the side of the stage, walked on the ledge of the patio, beckoned the crowd to group around below him. What happened next I had seen in videos before, but I never could have imagined how crazy it would have been in person. Nathan f*****g Williams did a flip into the crowd who willingly caught him before the momentum of the jump sent Williams surfing on a white-water crowd as he went from one side of the venue to the other on top of fans, before falling in their midst. Seconds later Nathan hopped back up before being washed up on the stage, crawling to his guitar, and finishing out the rest of the song. It reminded me of why I had fallen in love with his music a full decade ago, and still went out of my way to catch his sets, not once, but twice in two calendar days. A true showman in every sense of the word, Nathan Williams is a national treasure.