It's a little after 7:30pm when doors open, a queue's already formed, taking up the better part of a block. I'm led through a small nondescript cement concourse by security that gives way to a set of arena style doors. My guest and I push through and we enter the warmly lit catacombs otherwise known as the Village Underground, a.k.a one of my favourite London venues. 'Wow, look at all this fog' my guest says as we spelunk our way deeper inside. It's true, about the fog I mean, I don't know if they're paying the guy on the fog machine by the cloud but I cannot see three feet ahead of me. The music hasn't even started yet and I need a fog horn to find my way to the bar. If this heavy handed individual operating the fog-o-nator™ moonlights as an anesthesiologist we're all in really big trouble. After a quick glance over at the merchandise table with nothing really catching our eye we head to the stage. We secure a place against the barrier in one of the few pockets left near center stage.
Enter J. Fernandez (@jfernandezsongs) an as yet unknown to us Chicago native with a following (which I am willing to bet good money will swell after this tour) of just under a 1000. He's carrying a yellow tote bag that looks more like he's returning overdue books to the library rather than setting up the gear for his set. Dropping the bag off by the drum kit the band gets into their positions, but something else has my attention by the drums. It looks like someone's knocked over a bottle of beer. Unnoticed it rests on its side and the contents presumably spill out in an unhurried fashion much the way the music flows out of this band. The tunes set their own clip which varies as unpredictably as it does pleasantly. Laid-back J. Fernandez rolls in like a smooth breeze. The track 'Common Sense' off the newly released Occasional Din sounds equal parts zou bisou bisou, with a dash of sunshine cabana and a scattering of bum bum bums, you try and do a better job describing it why don'tchya? This album gives Mark Mothersbaugh a run for his money. Occasional Din feels like a Wes Anderson character, and like that beer that's spilling its guts out by the drum kit, they're both doing something naughty or interesting. They're unconcerned, doing their own thing like no one is watching. At the same time though everyone is watching and has their eyes on it (I definitely cannot take my eyes off of it) I mean them. J. Fernandez' music reminds me of a sound byte I once heard of St. Vincent describing how she practices playing and writing her music. She was taught to people watch, live or on TV, and translate their characteristics and personalities into music. With J's music I've got a feeling the writing process probably works in a similar manner as the notes seem to practically lift off and take flight from the lyrics. Or maybe not? Who cares? It sounds great, let's not overthink it.
After a few songs J turns around likely parched and is looking for his now spilled beer, but reaching down we find out what looked like a beer, wait for it, turns out to be a bottle of cough syrup. The creative process is a weird and wild ride I think to myself as he removes the cap and takes a few swigs on stage. He casually explains away what most people are probably thinking, which is to say he might have a problem. Between swigs, he assures us he's got it under control and that he's just got a little tickle in his throat, who am I to judge? The music works! It stabs and burrows into your heart and mind like a knife with a full tang, beautifully balanced with a wonderful harmony. The keys add a bunch of fun sounds too from instruments unseen like harpsichords, xylophones, melodicas and much more. This sorcery gives the small ensemble a larger than life feel on stage, would recommend.
Between sets I'm doing a bit of self reflection, how was it that I came upon Wild Nothing (@WildNothing) in the first place? It feels like forever since Gemini and later Nocturne came out and after that the group sorta fell through the cracks in my mind. That being said whenever one of their tunes pops up on shuffle I take my phone out of my pocket and look at the display and think, 'oh yeah, Wild Nothing, I dig these cats', they always grabs my attention. Unfortunately as my phone slides back into my pocket my attention fades out and falters. I general have a better memory and affinity for the groups I've seen and enjoyed live. It's not that I don't have a 'like like' relationship with Wild Nothing, but I would say we had a brief tiff in 2016 that made us start seeing other people.
I'll be the first to admit it, I'm a flawed person, I make mistakes, and my judgment of Wild Nothing's abilities to perform live based on a single performance I caught at Primavera all those years ago was wrong. VERY wrong. Back in 2016 the waves were crashing onto the beach of Barcelona's Primavera Sound during the day and washing away Jack's music. The crowd was also sparse, to be fair the space was large. I've since then come to realize they didn't get a fair shake. Yes, this was a lacklustre performance, but was this the best time and place to see them? Wild Nothing shouldn't be slotted into a line up, they should be the line up. Readers, I'm ashamed to say, I went into the very gig I'd be reviewing with the preconceived notions of possibly strongly disliking the performance I was about to see. I'm a big fan of second chances though so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. With the fog machine(s) turned up to 11 and the lights turned all the way down Jack Tatum's Wild Nothing took the stage between the shadows and pools of light.
The set started off with 'Nocturne', which is a brilliant way to start a set because thinking back it's not a regular song. 'Nocturne' is the type of song that puts you on your back foot because you can't really remember it starting, it's just there already playing full of sound and energy. It's a lot like picking up the thread of a conversation with a close friend a close friend you've not seen in a while. What better metaphor to sum up the relationship I've had with this group. I'm in love all over again, I'm hooked. I imagine a conversation between myself and Jack talking about our silly spat through his lyrics going something like this.
You wanna know me?
What's to know?
To amuse you
When the night is slow?
Am I twisted?
What can I say?
And will you stay up just to tempt me
One more night of your company
I know where to find you
I know where you go
And I just want to let you know
You can have me
You can have me all
Jack darling, I'm back and you can have me! The performance is completely stripped of all distraction and unnecessary aesthetics. No gimmicks, banter or costumes here, just whirlwind and sound closing in around grabbing your full attention and putting it in front of you where it belongs. Jack's hushed vocals and synthesized goodness is all velvet and stars. Transitions between songs are swift and consist of, 'hello' or 'this is a new track', 'I'd like to introduce the band now' there is no time wasted and for an hour twenty, they've played 16 tracks three of which are an encore. Jack and the band make the experience completely about the listener, not the city they're in or how the crowd feels tonight. The only indulgence they allow themselves is one I feel only I can see. I'm right up against the barrier and in that dimly lit space (think the realm of the shadow people or something, see pics) I catch each member at one point or another breaking character as they steal a stealthy smile for few seconds losing themselves in the cheers and applause from their audience.
Noteworthy performances by both Matthew Kallman (sax) and Jeff Haley (bassist). When Jeff lays into the bassline for 'Flawed Translation' off their latest Indigo I am fucking floored; it should be restricted from minors. It has to be one of the sexiest basslines I've heard in recent years I'd liken it to Metronomy's 'She Wants'. Totally fucking excellent, this one's definitely going on my 'dim the lights' playlist. Matty K, or Saxmaster K as he shall be known henceforth, has everyone eating out of the palm of his hand whenever he picks up that gleaming brass off the floor. I especially enjoyed his work on 'Paradise' from Nocturne. It was a crowd favourite. If you twisted my arm to be critical about any one aspect from Wild Nothing's performance that night I'd have to say not enough sax and bass.
This review has been one of the more challenging ones because putting Wild Nothing into words when they can't even stick to a genre is quite near impossible. Wikipedia lists them as an: Indie rock, Dream pop, Chillwave, Synth-pop, New wave, Shoegazing, Post-punk revival and although that's more than a mouthful they're not wrong. I've always been a firm believer in less is more but Wild Nothing's genre defiant ways challenges those notions. They keep adding layers upon layers without watering down the broth. If (you should) go see them, learn from my mistakes. Do-not wait to see them smashed together with a running list of 50 other headliners during the summer festival season, see them now, if you can (do it).
Bonus Interview with J Fernandez!
There was no way I was going to casually bump into any musicians tonight for a short chat because who'd stray from an unobstructed view at a sold out gig? So I hollered at J.F. over the internets and he came back to me.
Cpt: I'm a big fan of pizza, you're from Chicago so I gotta ask, is deep dish your go-to?
J: As far as Chicago pizza goes, I like deep dish but it’s not my first choice when I’m thinking pizza. I prefer thinner crust. My favorite pizza spots in Chicago are Middle Brow Bungalow and Reno. I also feel that root beer is the perfect beverage to have with pizza.
Cpt: Root beer, classic. I'd always order a root beer whenever we ate out and had burgers because it wasn't something we'd keep in the house. It's a beverage with a special place in my heart. Next question. If you could place one of your songs on any soundtrack which would it be?
J:Not sure if the music would go well with any of the films, but it would be nice to have either 'Common Sense' or 'Light Yeahs' playing somewhere in a Mike Leigh film.