Okay, folks, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll usually end up going to concerts by myself, but I’m going to start rubbing it in.
I just got back from an evening of Wheatus, and despite the fact that there were probably less than 50 people in the audience, it was an absolute blast.
Those of you with longer memories for semi-obscure tunes will recall Wheatus’ 2000 geek anthem “Teenage Dirtbag.” I obtained a second-hand copy of the self-titled debut album just for that tune, but the disc turned out to have more to offer.
After the one glorious moment in the sun, the band went through a series of label battles and lineup changes, eventually self-releasing two further albums. More on that later…
Flash forward to a few weeks ago as I peruse a flyer for upcoming concerts and I see Wheatus will play the State Theater on May 28. Only five bucks (or eight on the day of show)! My gosh, what a bargain! Despite the price, I was sure the turnout would be light. I also wondered exactly what to expect from the band – the songwriting on everything I heard had been melodic and intriguing but some parts of the debut record seemed to hint at hip-hop influence, which is not quite my taste.
The first indication that this show would be a bit out of the ordinary was the stage setup. Instead of being set up center stage, the drum kit was placed stage left, facing the opposite side instead of the audience. I later realized that the entire kit was electronic as well. In fact, the entire lineup of instruments on stage (all three of them) had to be routed to the sound system to be heard. Lead singer/songwriter Brendan B. Brown played one acoustic-style guitar the entire show achieving a wide range of sounds with outboard equipment. Rounding out the instrumental lineup was a slim electric stand-up bass. In another unique twist on the typical rock show, Wheatus also features two live female back-up vocalists.
As the band took the stage, Brendan B. Brown (or bbb as he is referred to on the Wheatus website) revealed that the band has no setlist and asked for requests. To his surprise (and mine) the tiny audience were rabid Wheatus fans and nobody asked for “Teenage Dirtbag” for more than 45 minutes.
I’m sure a lot of bands would cringe at the thought of letting the audience dictate what songs are to be played, but in this case, the idea went smashingly. I will venture a guess, however, that the band must be a bit disappointed to only get in one song from their newest album, “Too Soon Monsoon.” I almost spoke up to request the beautiful “Hometown,” a meditation on the skyline of New York City before and after the loss of the Twin Towers. They did manage to play an also-worthy tune called “The London Sun.” (They also played a track called “BMX Bandits,” but that was more like an encore for the very vocal fans.)
If there was one thing I took away from the evening, however, it is that Wheatus’ troubled sophomore effort is an overlooked gem. The story goes something like this… When the band finished their second album – a more serious effort to be titled “Hand Over Your Loved Ones” – their label, Sony, had major disagreements about the record and how to market it. A small release of the album with the original title happened in the UK, but it wasn’t until the band won control over the record that the general public got to hear it. And sadly, the intent and feel of the album were forever ruined for the band. Two tracks were added and the whole collection was mischievously rechristened “Suck Fony.” (No college degree necessary to figure out the meaning of that title.)
The whole story is a big shame, since “Hand Over Your Loved Ones” would have been a spectacular and well-reviewed follow-up, showing a band adding a bit of depth to what seemed at first to be a jokey outfit. It reminds me a bit of how Weezer grew from their debut album into “Pinkerton.” Of course, that album flopped at first, but the artistic merit of the record has been proven with the passage of time. The Wheatus album now known as “Suck Fony” is quite an accomplishment and deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
In concert, Wheatus pulls off their songs with gusto and charm. The members of the band have no airs or pretensions and interact with the audience with ease. One member of the audience remarked that the whole thing was like watching the band in their living room. I can’t think of a more apropos way to describe it. And let’s not forget that the band is essentially playing music “on demand” so they have to know the entire catalog. Sure, it’s only three albums, but still… They even managed to accommodate a fan’s request for a b-side called “Pretty Girl” and it came off like they play it every night.
Brendan B. Brown said at one point in the evening that they would keep coming back again and again until they could fill the room. Sure, it might have been a bit of hyperbole for the excited fans, but here’s hoping they actually follow through.
So here’s your homework: go buy some Wheatus CDs (or download them from iTunes) and find out what you’ve been missing (like “Love Is A Mutt From Hell,” “Anyway,” or “American In Amsterdam” to name a few). Then when Wheatus comes back to town, you’re coming with me!
I was just reading up on Wheatus and discovered that back-up singer Connie Renda and drummer Kevin Garcia have only been part of the band for less than a month (at least the announcement of such happened within the last month)… making this band’s cohesive performance all the more remarkable.