The Wrens at the Bowery Ballroom
May 27, 2005
Written by Jeremy Schreiner
Photographed by Evan Sung
- Kevin Whelan
About a day or two before I saw
The Wrens, I decided to stop seeing opening acts
as a general rule. I wrote them all off as a big,
fat waste of time. In hindsight this seems ridiculous
considering that The Faint recently opened for Bright
Eyes. Bright Eyes' front man, Conor Oberst, should
be gratefully licking the scum off The Faint's shoes,
but I guess that is beside the point. The point
is that when I went to see The Wrens, I meticulously
calculated when they would come on and then intentionally
showed up a half-hour later to make damn sure I
wouldn't have to waste any of my precious time listening
to painfully cacophonous noise that a group of assholes
in Williamsburg was trying to pass off as music.
But apparently my calculations were faulty because
when I showed up it was not The Wrens on stage but
That's right - Morningwood. Great
name, eh? Anyway, I go through my rehearsed bitching
and moaning about opening acts before I concede
that there's more to this band than a great appellation.
First of all, their music was fabulous. For a band
with a female vocalist, this was a much-welcomed
respite from all those Sleater Kinney wannabe bands
(see the Perishers review). Loud, raucous, well-played,
and original. Second of all, their performance was
astounding. The lead singer, Chantal Claret, was
a complete raving lunatic. It might have all been
an act, but if it was, it was a damn good one, a
damn fun one, and goddamn it - I want more of it.
She walked around stage like she owned the place.
She even deigned to spit on the stage floor. To
top it off, in the middle of one of her songs, while
chanting "Take off your clothes!", she
jumped into the crowd and ripped off some girl's
shirt. The girl then proceeded to try to make out
with the lead singer. It was utter chaos. I was
bashing my head against the stage and flinging beer
left and right. People were screaming "Take
off your clothes!", and the other three band
members were serenely keeping the music on point
while their leadswoman was off carousing with the
crowd and working us into a mad frenzy. Ah, there’s
nothing like some good ol' Morningwood. Watch out
for these guys; they're gonna be famous. Hey Morningwood,
why don't you and the Faint go out to Williamsburg
and give lessons on how to be an opening act?
Morningwood - Richard and Chantal
So the crowd was all riled up
by the time The Wrens came on. And they came out
charging. I thought maybe they blew their load too
early when they played "Everyone Choose Sides,"
arguably their best tune, as their second song.
But if you know anything about the Wrens, you know
that blowing their load early isn't their style.
They've been around quite a while but after being
dicked around for years by record-label miscreants,
they didn't release what is considered by many a
music connoisseur to be a masterpiece, The Meadowlands,
until way past their prime. In other words, they
blew their load too late.
They seemed perhaps a tad too old to be playing loud, energetic rock music to a sold-out room full of fawning hipsters, most of whom were about fifteen years their junior. Balding, graying, achy joints, back pain, Viagra, and even a little forgetful. One of the lead singers, Charles Bissell, forgot a crucial line in "Faster Gun." It's one of those parts in a song where the music quiets down so that the singer comes across with that much more power, but in this case, it merely highlighted his glaringly embarrassing memory lapse. Earlier in the set, the same guy couldn't hit his high notes. Poor old chap.
As if to compensate for his compatriot,
bassist/singer Kevin Whelan performed with the fervor
of a virile young bull let loose in a cow pasture.
At one point, he climbed atop this enormous speaker
and played his guitar for a bit before jumping down.
The thing must have been fifteen feet high, and
while it may not have been the smoothest leap I've
ever witnessed, I wouldn't have even considered
doing it. And I'm still in my twenties! He also
pulled this move where occasionally in the middle
of a song, he would toss his guitar five feet in
the air and catch it. This, I'll admit, is a little
ridiculous. Smashing your guitar to smithereens
or lighting it on fire is one thing. But throwing
your guitar and catching it is like Evan taking
his two thousand dollar camera and letting me hold
it for a second. Then again, this is an aging rock
star tenaciously holding onto his youth. Give him
Looking back on what I've written,
I realize that I've been a little harsh. I mean,
the show was fantastic. The crowd was going berserk.
It was as if they'd hired a claque. Sometimes it
was a bit over the top - to the point of being obsequious,
like cheering for your arthritic grandma as she
tries to pick up pennies from the floor. By the
middle of the show, though, I realized they deserved
the feverish applause. Once they found their groove,
their music was incredible to the finish. No, they
definitely didn't blow their load too early. If
anything, it was once again too late. I wanted them
to keep playing until dawn, but I guess that's when
you really show your age. I had to content myself
with listening to The Meadowlands and marveling
at how it's the best thing to come out of Jersey
since... ever, I guess.