Nashville’s music scene continues to reach into genres beyond country: we’ve previously noted the punk-infused garage rock of Heavy Cream, and that Jack White guy also comes to mind. As Gordon Downie once noted, though, “It can’t be Nashville Every Night.” This particular night, it’s a rainy Tuesday in August in a half-vacant Washington, D.C. DC9, though, is significantly more than half-full of aspirational types who have braved the elements to see Music City’s Wild Cub. To say that the Tennessee quintet has attracted some rock show rookies seems clear, particularly as a girl gives a song request to the DJ. Except that he’s the sound guy. No matter…everyone’s first time is awkward.
My familiarity with the band is somewhat nascent, having heard a few songs a few times, both from their 2012 album Youth and at their recent mid-day set at Lollapalooza. I’ve overcome my revulsion at a yet another band name which may very well have been produced by the Indie Band Name Generator. Of course, as previously stated, Wild Cub is a better rock and roll name than, say, Domesticated Bear. Moving past personal issues, their recent festival performance was enough to whet my appetite for a bit more. I’m encouraged before they take the stage by the fact that they’ve brought their own sound guy…something that usually portends well in this room.
They start with a bang — literally — as a drum stick whacks the set(s) to a start. The look is Vampire Weekend but the sound is thankfully not. It has that dance-y vibe that always accompanies vigorous drumming and propellant bass. It has that communal feel that accompanies vocals in slightly harmonic unison. It combines the ethos of disco with the familiarity of new wave, the virtuosity that comes from extensive practice with the energetic buoyancy that draws people out on a school night.
As others have noted, there’s a touch of Greg Dooley‘s grit in the vocals, and that sandpaper keeps them safely distanced from saccharinity. It’s a fun vibe, at least until an apologetic Keegan DeWitt stops mid-song, a Talking Heads-ish number, having forgotten his lyrics. He references an unforgettable Lollapalooza moment where a dude in a wheelchair was crowd-surfing (during Kendrick Lamar‘s set) as a way of distracting from his snafu. It works. They rock out a bit more, throwing a temporal scare into me with a slightly cheesy keyboard intro that loses its prominent impact once a vintage Peter Hook-style bass line kicks in, creating a warm blanket of sound that’s as familiar as it is fresh. “Blacktide” is a new track, and one that you’ll probably hear more of in the days ahead.
Some of the guitar licks are in that Two Door Cinema Club realm, but deeply resonant vocals keep them distinct. Like the boys from Northern Ireland’s County Down, though, they write undeniably catchy tracks. Their vigor is first-rate, and perhaps reflected by DeWitt’s destruction of two guitar strings. They drop “Drive” on us, a song that is Mercury Rev‘s “In A Funny Way” meets the bass line of The XX‘s “VCR” meets Airborne Toxic Event‘s Mikel Jollet on lead vocals. The clap-a-long single is rocking, our frontman’s banging on the drums part of a new communal zeitgeist, an element that contemporaries like Lucius and Royal Teeth have made de rigeur elements of their sets.
They don’t exit — this stage doesn’t allow that — and start the pseudo-encore with a bass line like you’ve heard before (in Michael Jackson‘s “Billy Jean”). It’s an appropriate intro to the conclusion of the set, one that draws their audience in with familiar sounds and keeps them intrigued with catchy melodies and infectious energy.