A Young Band Gracefully Matures

July 25th, 2013

Smith Westerns – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 24, 2013

Taking the stage last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg in front of an intentionally blurred-out backdrop, Chicago’s Smith Westerns blazed through an intentionally fuzzed-out set of their increasingly unique post-glam-punk rock and roll. The set opened with a pair off 2011’s name-maker album, Dye It Blonde, including a loose three-guitar “End of the Night.” Between songs, frontman Cullen Omori’s banter felt like perfunctory chitchat, unfinished anecdotes that just stood in the way of more rock and roll.

The two things you usually read about the Smith Westerns are that they’re young and that they write amazing throwback T.Rex/Mott the Hoople–esque songs beyond their years. As time goes on, though, the first thing is obviously becoming less and less the case, but the second still remains true while the band forges its own voice. As they moved into the newer material from their latest, Soft Will, this became increasingly clear: the raw energy of the two-year-old material making way for pro-polished songs like “Idol” and “Best Friend.” The band sounded sharper as well, guitars not losing their swirling-reverb edge, but delivering it with more focused oomph.

As each song flamed in its three-minute glory, the audience loosened up and the Westerns flashed some of their studio brilliance onstage—a few years of gigging will do that for you. Multiple songs, like “All Die Young,” were described as “sad” but proved to be highlights. The quick-and-dirty set proper closed with a triumphant “Smile,” the Smith Westerns sounding as good as ever and yet brimming with even more potential greatness. They admirably claimed they don’t “do encores,” yet although they didn’t leave the stage, Smith Westerns still played two songs after claiming they’d played their last, which counts as an encore in my book. The night finished with “Varsity,” the first single off of Soft Will, but certainly not the last we’ll hear from Smith Westerns. —A. Stein