Amongst the Wavves

August 3rd, 2010

Wavves – The Bowery Ballroom – August 2, 2010

For all his songs about weed, surfing and video games, Nathan Williams of Wavves has had to endure a lot of online criticism. Maybe it’s because it looks like he’s having too much fun. On his latest album, King of the Beach, out today, Williams has expanded his sound from lo-fi overblown fuzz into bigger, cleaner melodies that remain sloppy and enthusiastic. It’s still a barrage of jangly power chords with a thrown-together ramshackle feel. And if he’s got any kind of master plan, he’s fooling everyone—it’s more like the plan is to not have one and to make up the whole thing as he goes. From vague interviews to replacing the track “Mickey Mouse” with something he wrote yesterday because he’s being sued over the song title, he’s doing what comes natural.

The best defense against the backlash is to record another catchy melodic album about the mundane and to perform live like it’s his last show. Playing with Stephen Pope and Billy Hayes, Jay Reatard’s old bandmates, helps to take the focus off Williams, who reluctantly plays frontman. These guys have been through everything and are good stage distractions in between tunings, passing bottles of whiskey to the sold-out Bowery Ballroom audience, saying, “That last song is about killing yourself” and “in Sweden they asked us not to look so high onstage.”

After an extensive set Williams said, “Here’s how it’s going to work: We can finish this song and then leave and wait for you to clap and come back or we can just keep playing songs and then leave.” He leaned back and fell into the pit, playing straight through the surf. It was an unrehearsed moment that felt authentic, and that’s been the case so far with his albums and live show. He’s not out to con the audience or to play to the lowest denominator, he just happens to be having a great time doing it. —Jason Dean

(Wavves plays Music Hall of Williamsburg on 9/21.)