Wet – Rough Trade NYC – January 29, 2016
Although it wasn’t exactly “Frank Sinatra has a cold,” “Kelly Zutrau is losing her voice” rippled through the sold-out audience at Rough Trade NYC on Friday night. It was obvious even before Zutrau—Brooklyn three-piece Wet’s lilting, brilliant singer—confessed, “I’m losing my voice, I have to tell you. I might need your help singing along” after gamely making her way through the opener, “All in Vain.” The crowd emphasized, singing loudly on the next song, “Deadwater.” Wet, touring behind their debut LP, Don’t You, have collected Zutrau’s aching lyrics into a compendium of downcast R&B compositions. Her public pain is part of the record’s pleasure, the same sort of pop schadenfreude that makes the Postal Service work.
On Friday, the audience received an unexpectedly visceral performance of the album’s emotional landscape—these painful songs performed by a physically pained singer. If Zutrau’s agony and vulnerability are part of Wet’s charm, so too is her bravery in the face of it all. The Rough Trade NYC crowd didn’t know the future, that Wet would cancel the next night’s show in D.C. due to Zutrau’s rapidly deteriorating voice. And running through songs like “Move Me,” as she implored, “Save me or move me,” the rhythm section was tight and together, even their singer struggled against herself.
The pain of the performance folded in on itself as Wet played “Body,” Zutrau nearly wilting into lyrics like “No one said it would be easy/ But I never knew I’d get so lonely.” Songs from the band’s early work, including “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl” and “You’re the Best,” filled the middle of the set, leaving more recent singles “All the Ways” and “Weak” for the end. Those in the crowd seemed to know what they were watching, a strange inversion of a set building to a climax as Zutrau sonically deteriorated onstage, struggling the best she could. The collision of the lyrical content and an impassioned but painful performance clearly left her spent, but the collected audience didn’t seem to mind, singing when Zutrau couldn’t, making her pain theirs for a moment. —Geoff Nelson | @32feet