I seem to find myself waiting for doors at the Thekla in Bristol quite often of late and judging by the sea of excited faces in the queue for tonight’s show, it seems that this is a universal, wonderful, ‘problem’ to have. Tonight, Wheatus were to grace the intimate stage aboard my favourite boat, and I could not have been more excited.
Mike Doughty, a charming Tennessee-based artist, was first to take to the Thekla’s cozy stage. His opening song, ‘Grey Ghost’, was simply enchanting. The poeticism of the lyrics, coupled with Gabrielle Sterbenz’s backing vocals, gave the song a distinctive, haunting feel. Doughty’s eclectic, almost eccentric, set swerved from lonesome country to more modern, synthetic beats – and did it exceedingly well. In theory, such genres could not stand further apart, yet Doughty marries them seamlessly, creating a sound that is unique in the scene today. The highlights of Doughty’s set stemmed from the songs drawn from his ninth solo album, ‘The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns’, which wholly embody his eclectic sound. Such songs also gained the affections of a keen Bristol crowd, who seemed heartbroken to see him go, but equally anxious to see Wheatus.
When the time came for Wheatus to enter the stage, the little venue was packed to the rafters; the anticipation and excitement tangible. ‘Lemonade’ from their 2003 album ‘Hand Over Your Loved Ones’ was aired early in the set, which did not disappoint! The most enjoyable part here was to watch the crowd below bouncing in unison. I only wished I was down there with them!
This was only the beginning of a fun, and technically excellent, set from the pop punk pros. Songs like ‘Leroy’ (my personal favourite) were pulled off flawlessly. Such skilful, and playful performances highlight why Wheatus have been kicking ass since 1995! Brendan Brown stood out as he shredded solo after solo perfectly and owned it, but every member of the band played very intricate pieces to stunning effect, with bassist Matthew Milligan and drummer Leo Freire standing out in particular (even though he was hidden by the PA throughout the show!). After all, it is a rarity to be able to find a pop punk band who can all play their instruments quite so proficiently, rather than falling into the trap of playing only three chords per song.
A small surprise in terms of the setlist should be noted here. Many in the crowd (myself included!) grew excited and boisterous to hear that ‘Lullaby’, a currently unreleased song, was to be played. A UK live premiere with a bang! Very exciting. ‘Tipsy’, the band’s latest single which was written about people who get drunk and want to save the world (OR just hug everyone in sight), was also a delightful addition to a wonderfully eclectic, fan-chosen set.
The set was finished with the song for which the band are perhaps most well-known, ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. Whilst the powerful voices of the crowd were a presence throughout the set, here they became deafening; it was a pleasure to see the smiles on the band’s faces at this point. It really emphasized a feeling of togetherness that is prominent at Wheatus shows, and helped to create an unforgettable night.
Review: Amy Jefferies.
Images: Becky O’Grady