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The Wrens at the Bowery Ballroom
May 27, 2005

Written by Jeremy Schreiner
Photographed by Evan Sung

  The Wrens - 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 Morningwood.

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 some leeway.

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.

 

 


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