The next word in alt-rock seize the moment in Manchester
Wednesday’s fourth album Rat Saw God, which they released in April this year, solidified them as one of the best young rock bands in the world. They fused laid-back, dirtbag alt-country with an earnest and warm sensibility, and the songs themselves were instant punches to the chest. Their gig at Manchester’s Band On The Wall is part of their second lap of the UK this year, the first one back in June.
As vocalist/guitarist Karly Hartzman points out from stage, the room is much bigger this time around – for comparison, Band On The Wall is 500-cap, while five months ago they played the 60-cap YES Basement. It suits them well; their confidence as a band seems to have grown to fit the surroundings. Hartzman has no problem owning the room as a frontperson. Her presence is chatty and friendly, constantly cracking jokes with the crowd and her bandmates between songs. Yet while she’s playing, her vocals are astounding, particularly when she gets unhinged and intense during tracks like ‘Bath County’ and ‘Fate Is…’.
The rest of the band (guitarist Jake Lenderman, pedal steel player Xandy Chelmis, drummer Alan Miller and bassist Ethan Baechtold) match that energy; they’re all playing at the top of their game. Lenderman is a magnetic guitar player, breaking out into incredible solos in ‘Toothache’ and ‘Turkey Vultures’. The tones and textures at work between two guitars, pedal steel and bass are magical. They’re crunchy and heavy on the rockier tracks like ‘Hot Rotten Grass Smell’ and ‘Bath County’, glimmering on the ballads like ‘Formula One’, and on the moodier songs such as ‘Cody’s Only’ they sit and stew with each other, forming a rich atmosphere.
The exuberant Rat Saw God lead single ‘Chosen To Deserve’ is a highlight of the set, for unflashy reasons – just a fantastic song played with perfect tightness and energy. Before they go into it, Hartzman entertains the crowd by elaborating on the tales of adolescent misbehaviour in the song, noting she and her friends were inspired by Skins. “Y’all like that show here, huh?!” Chelmis quips after the crowd’s rowdy response. Wednesday are a great band for banter, which makes the whole show feel easy-going and down-to-earth – as does the fact that they take a crowd request in the form of deep cut ‘November,’ which they have to take a minute to relearn as Hartzman claims they’ve only played it four times ever.
Hartzman does get serious before the last song of the set, ‘Bull Believer,’ where she asks the crowd to make a donation to Palestinian children’s aid at the merch table. “If you’re angry like we are angry, feel free to scream with me at the end of this song,” she says. The eight-minute epic is imbued with an extra sense of urgency, particularly at its stunning crescendo that sees Hartzman break into shattering screams. After that, the band walk away unceremoniously as Hartzman thanks the crowd. There’s a feeling that what we’ve just seen for the last hour is a generational rock band at work.