With a New Album Wussy Graduate to The Bowery BallroomJuly 11th, 2016
Wussy – The Bowery Ballroom – July 10, 2016
Wussy, the Cincinnati fivesome, write fractured love songs, bittersweet tales of woe, knowingly dire kiss-offs, fist-pumping rockers that turn regret into a hail of guitar noise. That they’re some of the best in the business at doing this sort of thing—sad-eyed but still rock-out-ready indie rock, pop and alt-country—and have until somewhat recently been a secret shared among their hometown fans, Robert Christgau and the handful of other critics who handed them accolades long before the crowds appeared. And then, at long last, audiences did begin to show up, and after years of daylong drives to play 30-minute showcase sets whenever possible, Wussy returned to New York City with bigger audiences and, as of Sunday, have graduated to The Bowery Ballroom. Oh, have they earned it. Their songs are emotional wrecks, lived in without being weighed down. Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker and Co. have written and recorded so many of them now without compromising what makes a hard-edged rock song with a tender core such a sturdy thing in the first place. They’re a bit odd—the songs and the band—but by about 15 minutes into a set, you’re enthralled, living in the little, hardscrabble, honest worlds these songs call to mind.
No Wussy show I’ve ever seen has been too long: Always, when they’re leaving the stage for the last time that evening, I’m thinking, “I could really use one more of those.” Last night’s headlining show focused on Wussy’s most recent album, Forever Sounds, and served up tunes like “Gone”—with its pinched, Pixies-like narrative singing over loud guitars—“Hello, I’m a Ghost,” “Sidewalk Sale” and the gently shoegaze-y “Dropping Houses.” Intermixed with these came the throttling “Pulverized,” plus older favorites like “Maglite” and “Pizza King” (“KOA all night or forever if you want it/ We’re catching air outside the value supermarket”—such a Wussy kind of line). Late in the set, Walker claimed the spotlight, with only guitarist and pedal-steel player John Erhardt to accompany her, for the devastating “Majestic-12”—she sang like someone who had only recently discovered she could and wanted to see what such a gorgeous, slightly scuffed voice could do. And they did their typically superb version of New Order’s “Ceremony” as a closer, an esoteric cover that was just the right fit for a band that doesn’t do many of them.
Wussy come off as a lovably dysfunctional family: They banter wryly, Cleaver and Walker draw in most of the energy, and behind them comes an assured foundation from bassist Mark Messerly and drummer Joe Klug, in addition to color and shading from Erhardt, who holds back his steel playing from its traditional role of narrating sad songs, instead making it a racket-bearer, washing what the rest of the band is doing in frothy guitar tones. It wouldn’t work for other groups, but it does for Wussy. And these cracked-poetry songs wouldn’t work for other groups, but they do for Wussy—a band that knows how good they are but never once shed the humility they had before people started to show up.
—Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson