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Anthems for the slackers: Wavves celebrates the 'stupid' at Chinatown house party

August 5, 2010 |  2:35 pm


"Our stupid CD came out today. Big deal." And thus  singer-songwriter-frontman Nathan Williams begins a Wavves concert, where slacker boredom isn't so much channeled or championed as it is played to an almost ironic caricature. Feedback and distortion make a regular appearance, the word "stupid" is stretched to "stooooooo-pid" multiple times, and between-song banter consists of proudly self-deprecating comments -- or an occasional belch.

It's hard to tell if Williams thinks he's the butt of every joke, or if he's making an elaborate one himself. "This is the most stupid song on our stupid record," Williams said before launching into "King of the Beach," the gloriously scruffy summertime anthem that serves as the title track of Wavves' just-released, critically adored new album

Such put-downs have been a staple of Wavves' gigs, and they appear in almost every piece of music Williams has written. In one new song, Williams declared, "I'm not supposed to be a kid, but I'm an idiot," and in another, he announced that he "hates" his songwriting. But give Williams credit -- he doesn't often give the audience time to shrug and agree. His songs are delivered fast, and every self-doubt slam comes with a hook. Williams may erect a wall of defense from the opening slap of his guitar, but flaws are shared with exuberance. 

Performing at a downtown condo -- once the site of famed L.A. punk club Madam Wong's -- the Wavves' record-release house party was one of the last shows to take place at the locale, which had recently been used for surprise, last-minute shows. A friend remarked that the evening felt like a high school party -- a final rock 'n' roll send-off before everyone goes to college.

The now L.A.-based artist certainly has a mix of teenage confidence and leave-me-alone sarcasm -- "Green Eyes" was all love-struck crush and woe-is-me snottiness -- and the genial crowd was ready to party, but not too hard. A mini-mosh-pit broke out once or twice, only to have the leader of circle to declare he was "too tired" a few moments later. It was fitting, as Williams' songs dance around the topic of stupidity rather than inspire it.

The songs on "King of the Beach" are no doubt sharper than those on Wavves' 2009 album for Fat Possum, "Wavvves." My colleague August Brown declared "King of the Beach" a four-star album, comparing songs to the work of Ritchie Valens and the Jesus & Mary Chain. I don't share his excitement, but Williams' recently added rhythm section of  bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes, who used to play with the late garage rocker Jay Reatard, were no doubt a wise move. 

"King of the Beach" was a perfect mess, with jet-propulsion streaks and a '60s stomp, while "Post Acid" gave Williams' "hold my hand" whine a spunky backdrop. Better still was "Linus Spacehead," which hit on "Dirty"-era Sonic Youth with a concisely muddled riff.

It all recalls the days when the Bay Area's Lookout! Records was churning out album after album of catchy, snarky pop. Everything in the Wavves catalog would fit comfortably between the retro-surf rock of the Beatnik Termites and the disarming smugness of Screeching Weasel, yet there's only one truly great song in Williams' arsenal. 

"Take On the World" soars with irresistible backing harmonies, and Williams turns his scroungy holler into something approaching optimism, noting that breaking out of this dead-end direction "would be something." It's a simple sentiment, and one that's longing for better things ahead. It's also one of the few that hints that Williams may someday have something to say.

--Todd Martens

Poorly lit iPhone pic courtesy of Mark Millian. 

Wavves will headling at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, on Aug. 13 with the Growlers, Cyrstal Antler, Abe Vigoda and more. Tickets are $10.

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