Wheatus at Electric Ballroom
Few bands have as big an albatross around their necks as Wheatus. To almost everyone, Wheatus are a one-song band. Contemporaries like Sum 41 and Alien Ant Farm (really) have a few medium-sized hits to support their biggest singles; Wheatus have never written anything nearly as popular as Teenage Dirtbag.
But most of tonight’s crowd hasn’t come for one song, and Wheatus’ lead singer Brendan B Brown knows it. He stands to the far left of the stage, his rhythm section to the right, leaving keyboardist and hipster Sigmund Freud-lookalike Mark Palmer oddly exposed in the middle. The band fans out in a pleasantly egalitarian formation and gets started.
The set is comprised entirely of requests, some only a little obscure, others practically archaeological. The 2003 single American in Amsterdam falls into the former category, and like many songs played tonight, it benefits from Gabrielle Sterbenz’s and Joey Slater’s warm backing vocals. Their voices do a wonderful job of making Wheatus – who trade more or less exclusively in spotty teenage angst – sound a bit less like weenies and a little more like grown men who could hold a conversation with members of the opposite sex.
Sterbenz and Slater are particularly prominent on Fourteen, which at points is practically a duet between them. Written more than a decade after the band’s debut album, it is audibly more mature than anything played so far. The guitar bites harder, and again the female voices ripen the song. This is comfortably the most impressive of the band’s later songs. For once, Brown and co look back on adolescence with warmth rather than snark, better placed to see the optimism in teenage-hood 27 years after the event.
Brown’s voice has kept remarkably well, and on snotty tracks like Punk Ass Bitch and thrashy set-highlight Hey Mr Brown, he sounds no older than he did 15 years ago. Before playing intricate ballad The Story of the Eggs, Brown admits that the song’s one-handed solo “scares the shit” out of him, but it comes out flawless. Just as tight is a truncated cover of Shake it off, which mischievously comes after the band announces it has time for one more song…
They do play the song eventually, and make it a little special by inviting the support acts, tour managers and crew on stage. It’s a fitting way to perform a song that keeps the band and their crew in a job – just as well it does, because Wheatus has more to offer than Teenage Dirtbag.
The editorial unit
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Watch the video for American in Amsterdam here: