Are the critics’ latest darlings as good live as they are in studio?
We love our buzz bands, don’t we?
Anglophile that I am, I’ve fallen, not without reason for a fair number of British imports, and, yes, I will defend my early love for The Jesus and Mary Chain all the way to Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
These days, I’ve also fallen, to a degree, for Wet Leg and I’m not alone: Their debut single, “Chaise Longue,” has been at the top of a lot of folks’ playlists since last summer. We found it on Spotify or spotted it on YouTube, watching one of many band videos in various settings.
It’s one helluva droll-erotic-explosive calling card for Rhian Teasdale (lead vocals/rhythm guitar) and Hester Chambers (lead guitar/backing vocals), the two women, both in their late 20s, who are Wet Leg. (The band is fleshed out by a touring trio: bassist Ellis Durand, drummer Henry Holmes – guitarist/keyboardist Joshua Omead Mobaraki.)
Wet Leg are in the midst of an American club tour, their second. But, as their soldout show at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club (cap: 953) Monday March 7, made plain, they are a baby band. Which is to say, they’re on young legs (sorry) and taking first steps. They’ve released five streaming songs, with a full album due next month.
I know we now live more in a song-by-song age, rather than an album age. One song can turn nobody into somebody. It didn’t used to be like that, though Wet Leg’s early-life tour sellout crowd reminded me of Pretenders first US jaunt at this very same club in Boston in 1980. Their debut LP, Pretenders, had already come out but the advance tickets were sold on the basis of that incredible run of pre-LP import singles: “Stop Your Sobbing,” “Kid” and “Brass in Pocket.”
While Wet Leg are very good operating within a fairly narrow sonic range – and they’re a hooky bunch – well, once you get the hang of where they’re coming from, you pretty much know where they’re going from song to song. It ain’t a bad place: A mix of conversational and high-pitched vocals, brash noisy guitar skronk, quiet-time, lingering drop downs. Repeat and/or shuffle. Absurdist humor. Collage lyrics. Semi-buried snark. Their set consisted of 16 songs in 50 minutes, starting with “Being in Love,” “Convincing” and “Wet Dream” – the latter being Wet Leg’s masturbatory/shambolic second hit – and closing, of course, with “Chaise Longue,” NPR’s No. 2 (!) song of the year.
Yeah, we were all revved up to hear “Chaise” done live (finally, you knew it’d be the last song) in front of us, but here was the rub. It’s a hit, you know. People know the song. What do they do when they know the song? The sing or shout along with it. It’s jubilation time! You’re in the same room with your wry heroines!
You could more or less hear Teasdale dryly state her innuendo-infused positions – “I went to school and I got the big D,” “Is your muffin buttered? /Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?” (it’s dirty, you can Google) and “Hey you, over there/On the chaise longue in your underwear/What are you doing sitting down? /You should be horizontal now.”
But the crowd went nuts screaming “What?” which is Chambers’ four-time response to Teasdale’s “Excuse me.” It’s supposed to be dry as a bone, but the crowd response and Wet Leg’s acceptance of it – I know, what else are they gonna do? – took away from the song’s subtle playfulness and made it just a happy hit pop song. (I did not see Billie Eilish’s recent show at TD Garden, but from the reviews, I gathered she, her band and her fans turned even the introspective, pensive stuff into big bouncy pop rousers. Everything’s a celebration! (If Nick Drake was alive and touring, would we be singing along: “He’s just a poor boy, so sorry for himself!”?)
VIDEO: Wet Leg performing “Chaise Lounge” at Paradise Rock Club in Boston
There was a pretty steady light/heavy dichotomy going on – sing-song-y nursery rhyme like couplets (i.e., “Oh No”), which could veer toward the cutesy-pie/annoying side only to get semi-rescued by triple guitar blast of beautiful noise. Mobaraki was often hunched over his small keyboard rig etching some old-school synth burbles and theremin like whoops.
The band was bathed entirely with stage lighting (no spots, as far as I could tell), which kept them, mostly, in an amber-ish hue with sporadic flashes of light, so you couldn’t really see the women’s expressions. Chambers often played with her hair in her eyes and, sometimes, with her back toward the crowd. Teasdale sported a tent-like broad striped dress. There was no “presentation” or stagecraft, so to speak, with one mini-exception: Toting their guitars, the duo did a silly little spin-around dance routine during “Red Eggs.”
They were having some fun up there; I’d wish they’d been more visible. They didn’t address the audience until about half-way through. Teasdale said something which I presume was on the order of “Thanks for coming” but she was so quiet and muffled, I’m only guessing. (I don’t need to be thanked and I don’t mind if a band says nothing: Tangerine Dream and The Cars, both played it that way, and that was fine.)
There are more than a few antecedents for Wet Leg – the female-fronted Brit bands of the early ‘80s, like Raincoats, Slits and Au Pairs. The Flying Lizards, who did that deadpan “Money” back in 1979. Probably some good ‘90s reference points in Elastica and the Breeders. Wet Leg joins Dry Cleaning “in the midst of” what the Guardian’s Kitty Empire says is “a British post-punk revival.” Fair enough. I hope. There are far worse things to revive.
VIDEO: Wet Leg on Later… with Jools Holland
One little disappointment which wasn’t one until one of the soundboard guys told me there was a rumor they were going to play Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” But nope. They have done, but not this night. They coulda and shoulda because, well, they still wouldn’t have hit the hour-long mark and it’s always nice to hear a new band cover one of their fave old band’s songs. Linkage, y’know. And that probably would’ve tickled us sixty-somethings in the crowd. It’s also worth noting that there was a rather wide sort of generational spread here – Wet Leg’s peer group and people who could be those peers’ parents or, gulp, grandparents.
VIDEO: Wet Leg on Jimmy Fallon
Of note, perhaps: I watched Wet Leg Wednesday night on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, playing “Wet Dream.” It was a whole lot better, more dynamic. Why? The sound was A-level – you could hear what Teasdale was speak-singing and the music mix was not overpowering; the lighting was bright and focused – faces were visible and expressions like sly smiles and eye movement were part of the show; the women wore bright red dresses and white tops, adding a little bit of visual pizzazz to the proceedings; and, as it was just the one song, we got a sharp, sharp shard of one of their best songs, meaning, of course, no time to linger over the the similarities in song you’d hear over the course of a set.
VIDEO: Wet Leg “Angelica”