Live Review: Wussy/The Fervor
Wussy/The Fervor—Off Broadway—St. Louis, MO—Aug. 7, 2009
Quick review: I caught a couple of almost-rootsy indie-rock bands last night, both with very strong new releases, who crossed the Mississippi to play a double bill in the comfy Off Broadway nightclub.
The Fervor, from Louisville, played first. Their star attraction is singer/pianist Natalie Felker, who sets up front and center and guides the band through their moody, anthemic ballads. Felker is an indie-rock Karen Carpenter, with her warm alto croon, without a hint of vibrato, and gentle, melodic tunes, except instead of “We’ve only just begun,” it’s “You finally got your shit together.” The lyrics are that matter-of-fact—songs about lovers who take the bridge into the city and stop for cinnamon gum—and the music is equally direct, keeping chord progressions and arrangements relatively simple in a nice blend of artistic integrity and accessibility. The place to start is Bleeder, an album worth seeking out; at times, The Fervor’s metronome feels stuck in the same setting, but the Liz Phair-y melodies stick to your ribs by listen two. Last night, their songs were played far more bombastically than on record, perhaps too much so—it was very loud in the club, and Felker’s piano often gave way to squalls of guitar from her hubby, Ben, a power-chorder who lets his heavy shag fly. The songs were strong enough to carry the show, especially the lovely “Don’t Disappear” and the slow-building pulse of “Moment of Truth,” both from Bleeder.
Wussy, a four-piece from Cincinnati, is led by singers/guitarists Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker and is currently enjoying plenty of critical acclaim for its self-titled new album, and rightfully so; it’s a 12-song set of quirky frizz-twang, featuring Cleaver and Walker trading off on lead vocals. That arrangement made for an exciting show last night, as Cleaver played salty to Walker’s sweet on songs like “Death by Misadventure” and “Muscle Cars” from the new record. Cleaver is an imposing figure—wooly, husky, tattooed, bespectacled—and sings with a heady whine over his acid-trip lyrics. He creates quite a jangle with his guitar, too, picking around chords down on the nut on Byrdsy, tremolo-soaked riffs. The driving guitars and drums and the quick, repetitive wordplay suggest early R.E.M., but Walker’s vocals, like the pacific verses in “Gone Missing,” ease up the throttle. “Happiness Bleeds” was the show’s peak and the night’s hardest rocker, as it provided the best summary of Wussy’s appeal—Cleaver’s urgent verses of semi-gibberish alongside Walker’s sweet interjections and loose harmonies: “Baby, I love you!” they sing-shout, nicking Cat Stevens’ “Wild World,” amid manic la-la-las. They deserved a bigger crowd last night although it didn’t help that their start time was midnight, CST. Yeesh. You can decide if they need a better band name. Cleaver obviously goes for quasi-juvenile irony, given that his last band was called the Ass Ponys, but you should take their music more seriously than those monikers would suggest.