The Wrens at the Talking Head
Baltimore, December 18, 2004
It’s always a show like this that ruins me on all others. Seeing Radiohead consisted of me directing my attention to either the large pixilated video screens or focusing on the tiny dots in the distance that resembled the band. Seeing the Pixies live was pretty much the same way. During Morrissey I spent most of my time staring at the back of the seven-foot tall giant standing in front of me.
But the Baltimore club where The Wrens played Saturday night reminded me of why I still go to shows. The club was about the size of a two-car garage, with a bar at the end, and every square foot filled with people. Luckily, I got there extremely early. While they weren’t selling actual tickets, I was able to talk to the owner and explain how I had driven up from Richmond just to catch this show, and if there was anyway I could pay in advance. Luckily, he seemed pretty sympathetic (as I would guess anyone would be towards someone who had sat through DC traffic for much of the drive).
Anyway, it wasn’t much of an accomplishment to actually meet the Wrens; like I said the club was so small it was impossible to not keep bumping into them. But they were truly nice guys. But I wasn’t expecting anything different. So I told them the usual things, about how great Secaucus and The Meadowlands were (they are), and if they were planning on recording a new album soon (they are). I found out Secaucus will never be re-released, because the guy who owns the rights to the songs is busy raking in millions off of Evanescence and Creed, and isn’t going to waste his time with an album that didn’t sell more than 2,000 copies originally. That was the impression I got from the Wrens actually. The large part of their career had been caught up in the ugly politics of the music industry, and the fact that it didn’t distract them from continuing to make music is pretty damn impressive. They have been together 15 years at this point. They all lived in the same house together for most of that time. And in spite of all the BS, they haven’t had any lineup changes, and they still had a great outlook on playing music, even if they did seem a little caught off guard by all the buzz surrounding them.
And then there was the show. Fifteen years of playing together will do a lot to tighten up any live act, but the Wrens were still one of the best live acts I’ve seen, constantly bringing the audience from a total frenzy to quiet captivation all within the course of a minute. Bassist/ Keyboardist Kevin Whelan would yell “Clap!” at the audience with the ferocity of a drill instructor, and “Louder!” when it wasn’t exactly how he wanted. He turned the microphone on the audience. He jumped on the monitors. He apologized for drunkenly telling the audience to “go fuck themselves” during the Philadelphia show. He interrupted the beginning of “Boys You Want” twice to run to the microphone and explain whatever had popped into his head. During the same song he pulled people on the stage to hold shakers, clap, sing, or do whatever he found for them to do. And the audience just helplessly complied with every order. But his intensity didn’t seem chaotic, or intimidating or even the least bit orchestrated. This seemed to be the release of fifteen years of pounding away on that piano, and finally seeing that people “get it.”
So at the end of a night of breathing a combination of sweat and stale cigarette smoke, and enjoying every minute of the exhausting intensity of the show, I once again told them good night, thanks, etc. and then left for my hotel room. But I decided right then that it should be a requirement that every band who is bitching about not making it, or spending their time fighting over petty crap, or making sure their Diesel jeans match their vintage Pumas before they even buy instruments should see a band like the Wrens. Maybe it was because of the disappointments, and the politics, and the years of playing to largely disinterested crowds that makes them so intense. Maybe if they had gotten “big” in any sense of the word, they wouldn’t be the same band. But while its possible I seriously doubt it, because while a lot of us say that “it’s just about the music” (and while I think most of us mean it- I do), The Wrens are a perfect example of letting the long drives, the weeks away from home, and the occasional ugliness that can come with making music a full-time job just roll off, and just fucking playing.
6 thoughts on “The Wrens: It’s Easy When You’ve Been Given Such Charms”
Don’t know why no one’s posting in this virgin territory, so let me be the first.
Wickedly cool this one got bumped to the frontpage. I can only imagine that with songs as stomping as “Everyone Chooses Sides”, that they’d be an amazing group live. Great thing that they’re great dudes from Jersey as well. I got great things to say about Jersey folk; I married one. They talk funny, but they’re all heart and passion.
It’s a travesty mr. Wind-Up Records honcho wouldn’t see fit to license the Secaucus album to Absolutely Kosher for reissue. I know they’d be able to sell bucketloads of it (well, Wrens-size bucketloads). Jake, do we know what Meadowlands has SoundScanned at? Or is that an impolite question?
i dont see the big deal about this wrens band, just another emo band in my mind. i can tell no diffence between them and simple plan, except one band is from canada, one is from new jersey.
I had a very similar experience with the Wrens back in february or march in Omaha, Nebraska. They were selling discs of all their previous albums, but they looked like they were made on a home computer. I didn’t get any, but my friend did, and they are excellent, but not nearly as complex as the meadowlands. Nothing personal, Jet fan, but in my opinion meadowlands is the best album that could ever be described as emo or indie to come out in a long, long time. And to see them live is to know that rock is alive, drunk, and still kicking in tiny, smelly, bars across this fine nation. Long live the Wrens!
Uhmmm, you are a “jet fan”.
Jet fan, you are crazy to not hear the difference between the Wrens and Simple plan! They sound nothing alike at all…granted simple plan is talentless.
The Wrens…Simple Plan…The Wrens…Simple Plan…sorry, but I just can’t seem to be able to see where the similarities between these two completely different bands lie. The Wrens, for one thing, are almost completely unknown and they certainly don’t play music that can be likened with Simple Plan. Keep it real, mate. The Wrens are fantastic.