Review by Ross Marvin
Photographs by Ross Marvin, Al Goldberg and Kirsten Ferguson
As great as it was, the music was almost beside the point at the Wussy show on Thursday night at the Low Beat. Four members of the critically-beloved Cincinnati band were given tickets for marijuana possession before they could even get out of Ohio, and Johnny Law absconded with their entire stash. Not a great way to start a tour, though it sounds like it could make a pretty good Wussy song. Something about how driving a shitty tour van draws the attention of the cops, but Willie Nelson’s deluxe ride cruses right past the sirens, even though that bust would be a sure thing.
It was 11:30pm by the time Wussy got to Albany, and the crowd at the Low Beat ran out to their van to grab amps, guitar pedals and merch boxes to help expedite the set-up. One fan even lent her handwriting talents to the band, helping to copy the setlist. By 11:49pm, the band hit the stage, forgot about such petty things as a sound-check, took a shot of tequila in honor of National Tequila Day, and dug-in to one of the most incendiary performances that will grace Captial Region stages this year.
In opener “Teenage Wasteland” Wussy channeled the stresses of their day into a catharsis of guitar drone for the 50 or so faithful fans who stayed out past curfew. “And for one short breath, it sounds like the world is ending, exploding in space and beginning again so far away,” sang Lisa Walker, perfectly describing the music of a band that clearly loves what it is doing and is at the peak of its powers. Walker was sporting a new blue-green hairdo, a French days-of-the-week t-shirt, an Epiphone Les Paul, and maybe the most underrated rock and roll voice in the country. She is the band’s true star, and her powerful stage presence is the stuff rock-fanboys lose sleep over or alternately dream of (I see her across a crowded record store, in the W’s, holding a copy of Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. Her eyes meet mine, and we start a record label together!).
Much of the setlist was pulled from Wussy’s superb 2014 long-player Attica!, material which they unveiled at their show at the Low Beat this past spring. This time around, the rhythm section of Mark Messerly (bass) and Joe Klug (drums) were noticeably tighter, and despite some difficulties with the monitors, Walker and co-frontperson Chuck Cleaver sounded as good together as ever, her spot-on Midwestern vocal swagger blending with Cleaver’s knack for becoming the everyman through his high, warbling, character-actor vocals.
Long-bearded and burly, Cleaver joked that the cops asked him specifically not to write about their bust. The ever witty Cleaver doesn’t strike me as someone who follows the rules. He bragged all night about how he actually wasn’t given a ticket, although he admitted that he looked the most stereotypically like a guy that might be holding. If Walker is the voice, then Cleaver is the words of Wussy. After a manic, swirling instrumental drone introduction, Cleaver absolutely killed the vocal for “Yellow Cotton Dress” off of Wussy’s debut Funeral Dress: “The silverware you used is on the table still. Someone else will have to move it because I never will.” Those lyrics rival William Carlos Williams for me any day.
Wussy is at it’s best at loud volumes, and the set included many of the band’s finest rockers, including the post-punk anxiety of “Pulverized,” the upbeat “Maglite,” the clever cow-punk of “Happiness Bleeds” and the show-stopping “Beautiful,” which has become a bookend with “Teenage Wasteland” in Wussy sets. This quintet of songs along with encore “Airborne” all benefit tremendously by the fairly recent addition of pedal steel guitarist John Erhardt, who adds depth and dimension to the ethereal wall of guitar sound.
With Wussy, it’s easy to care for the band, and hard not to feel a little bad for them. They play to crowds of 50 (at least in Albany… word is they sold out their Boston show). They might not really be able to afford buying more pot and the court fines that go with catching a possession ticket. Undoubtedly in a perfect world, Wussy would be a huge band that had millions of followers. But, in my perfectly selfish world, Wussy is already perfect as they are. Because they are a working band, I get to see them from only a few feet away. I can help load in their equipment or make a joke with a band member between songs.
This is the same reason the Low Beat is an essential cultural center for Albany. Where else would people wait until after midnight on a weeknight to see a former member of Assponys? For everyone there who had to wake up and go in to the office on Friday, it was well worth the sleep sacrifice and the hangover.
Norton Records recording artist Bloodshot Bill played an extended opening set of psychobilly that recalled Hasil Adkins. Hailing from Canada, Bill’s reckless and wild one-man band (guitar in the hands, bass drum and hi-hat with the feet) routine featured reverb and tremolo soaked guitar, crankshaft vocals and the alternate panting and snorting of a deranged sex fiend. Unhinged, but entertaining. And he was a good sport, vamping and taking requests to keep us all entertained until Wussy rolled in.
He also had fantastic greaser hair, shaking it all out into long bangs as he spit through a cover of Montreal garage legends Deja Voodoo’s “Skeleton at My Party” and then just after the last chord, coolly withdrawing his plastic comb from a back pocket and making three quick sweeps until his pompadour was perfect again.
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
WUSSY SET LIST
Rainbos and Butterflies
Mountain of Tires
To the Lightning
Death by Misadventure
Yellow Cotton Dress
Sun Giant Says Hey
Don’t Leave Me Just Now