After a few days of seeing various bands chase the zeitgeist by mixing and matching various genre elements like a game of buzz-band magnetic poetry (it’s lo-fi meets ’90s R&B! It’s goth meets southern rap!) it was fun to see a band that was as gimmick-less as a band can come. The Wandas are a Boston-based garage-pop four-piece that play sad-sack romantic rock n’ roll in the vein of the DB’s or Elvis Costello. They have songs about getting one more chance and a song about an answering machine; no ground is being broken here, no taboos touched, no innovations made. That being said, the Wandas are fun. Kinda cheesy? Sure. Not particularly cool? Yeah. But really fun.
With their big shout-along choruses and their classic rock melodies, the band managed to whip the crowd at the Bowery Poetry Club into a sugary frenzy. These pop tendencies were nicely countered by some surprising noise attacks towards the end of certain songs, the guitars sending out crushing waves of white noise that caused quite a few bopping concert-goers to cover their ears. In fact, the sound system of the small club seemed to be pushed to the limit by these scrappy garage rockers, with many of the harmonized choruses sounding blown-out and refreshingly raw. Maybe these pop craftsmen have some avant-garde feistiness in them after all.
Where the Wandas epitomized old-fashioned gimmick-less rock, the next band, fellow Berklee graduates the Prigs, were a raggedy collection of jokey influences and ironic gestures. The group is based out of Brooklyn and features members of St. Vincent and Kaki King’s bands. I’m gonna start with the facts: There were eight dudes on stage. Five of them wore sunglasses. One wore goggles. Did I mention the guy with the goggles also played a keyboard-guitar? Yes, an actual keytar. With their two saxophones and big choruses, the group obviously wants to be seen as some kind of hilarious combination of Bruce Springsteen, the Pogues, early ’90s R&B, Huey Lewis, and maybe a touch of ska. It’s a dangerous combination and maybe some day these guys will make it work, but last night’s show was undone by a slow-start, sound issues, a lack of momentum, and an almost tangible smugness. There’s a difference between having fun on stage and smirking your way through a set of songs; I’m sure the guys in the Prigs have an actual appreciation for the type of music they play—no one would put this much work into mocking something they hate—but it’s hard for an audience to enjoy a show when the band members all giggle at each other like they’re getting away with some giant prank. “We’re not here to impress anyone,” the lead singer said at one point. That wasn’t too hard to figure out.