Return of the Beach Punk: Wavves’ Victory at the Bowery Ballroom

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[Photo via TONY]

To the pun-happy indie pundits: Wavves is not washed up. The beach-punk, Pitchfork induced “buzzband” that is Nathan Williams (aka Wavves) has long since survived his epic melt-down at Barcelona’s Primavera music festival in late May. A “cocktail of ecstasy and Valium” would make any budding 22-year-old rocker go loopy, but if you thought flying beers and stray shoes could destroy someone who is naturally self-destructive, you have been mistaken. Sporting a cast from a skateboarding accident the weekend prior, Williams took the stage at July 15’s Bowery Ballroom and performed, sober, broken-wristed, loud.

No one recognized Williams when he walked on stage for the sound-check. He was wearing a Chicago Bulls Cap, his Flock of Seagulls pseudo-mullet was decidedly absent, and he was drinking…water? He also looked pudgier since his February performance at Manhattan’s DIY venue, Less Artists More Condos. Had it really only been half a month since his last performance? Leaving and then returning to the stage 10 minutes later, the audience finally gave their scuzzy lo-fi rocker a proper embrace. Amidst the cheers, one person yelled the ever familiar, “YOU SUCK!” But by the time Williams (with surprising dexterity) strummed the guitar with his cast-covered hand, that lone naysayer was sucked up by the mosh pit.

The crowd was skeptical no doubt, only truly warming up to Wavves at the climax of the third song, “Summer Beach Goth 2,” in which Williams sings openly about his love for a goth chic of the summer. It is during this number that Wavves wins the crowd’s respect, which had since whittled away after headlining indie tabloids and canceling his European tour weeks earlier. Further confirming his new-found stability, Williams gulped down a bottle of water afterward and chivalrously gave another bottle to a cheering fan at the end of the stage. Later, Williams turned off the oodles of reverb masking his voice and laughed, “This is what I really sound like.”

Though his cast occasionally toggled the switch on his guitar, sending it into piercing feedback, the mosh happily raged on to Williams’ sounds of youth and surf-punk nostalgia. Couples bizarrely grinded to grimy distortion and violent drums, others hopped like jumping beans. Every song had two or three stage divers. Crowd camaraderie ensured that whoever fell was picked up immediately. In an unidentified song, the drums cut out, leaving Williams to strum in a lonely blur of distortion and echos. The audience swayed dreamily as he sang, “Everyone thinks I’m done.” Not anymore.