Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Wrens (well, 3/4ths of them)/Palomar/Bird of Youth; November 30, 2010; The Rock Shop, Brooklyn

We call this sort of trip “Nick-crazy.” I landed at La Guardia at noon and was on a plane back to Milwaukee at 6 AM the next day, only four hours after I’d been sitting at a table upstairs at the Rock Shop with Okkervil River’s Will Sheff and the New Pornographers’ Carl Newman. Of course, that wasn’t why I booked a whirlwind trip to New York, they are just friends of a friend and I just sat there in star struck silence. I tried to tell a few people that my main destination was the Baldessari exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was indeed quite excellent and I highly recommend, but it didn’t take long before the truth came out.

I’d been Wrens-starved this year. After seeing ten fantastic shows in 2009, this year I’d thus far settled for the pair of shows in Philly and Baltimore on their “two-city tour.” As further incentive to buy a plane ticket, they were previewing the songs that would make up the new record. I’d heard a few of bassist/keyboard player Kevin Whelan’s new songs over the last year and a half, but nothing from the band’s other major songwriter Charles Bissell. All of a sudden it seemed like I had to go, and once Greg Whelan also signed on I knew I was right.

It was a show only a fan could love, but I am and I did. As promised, they played nothing but new songs. I think surprising even themselves that they didn’t give in and play older material, especially when one insistent fan kept yelling for “She Sends Kisses.” Of course, that fan was Bissell’s wife Rachel Warren, lead singer of Palomar and organizer of the five weeks worth of benefit shows that this was a part of. The new songs are certainly promising, but they are even further from done than I would have suspected. “Working on the record” was exactly what they were doing, with all of us as witnesses. Some of the songs were little more than sketches, and many had never been played by all three at the same time. In fact, Charles seems to have rehearsed more with members of Palomar than he had his own band, and he called them up to help him out on a couple of occasions. Of course, that wasn’t true of all the members he called on, drummer Dale Miller hadn’t even heard one of the songs he was asked to play on. Greg also debuted his new song. He looked disgusted at the end, but I thought it was great. After all, he does have the prettiest voice in the band.

They apologized afterward that I had come all this way for that, but I insisted it was worth it. I had seen them play the same batch of songs for the last five years, and it was a treat to hear all new material, even if it wasn’t as polished as most of their stuff. I pointed out that this was only the second plane ticket I had bought for them this year, after buying several the year before. Greg told me I better get ready to buy a bunch more because they were planning on touring a lot after the record came out. Luckily it would appear I have some time to save up. Unlike most Wrens’ fans, I don’t actually care when the new record comes out, as long as they keep playing shows.

I’d seen Palomar once years before, and I remembered thinking they were pretty OK for a bunch of girls. They opened one of the Maxwell’s shows last year, but it was the night of Kevin’s party and I missed most of their set for cocktails and cupcakes. They’ve been fairly quiet the last several years as Bissell and Warren started a family, but they are also working on a new record. They had a few problems, bemoaning that they weren’t as slick as opener Bird of Youth who played without a rhythm section, and wondering why things were going wrong tonight when last week had gone so well. I definitely enjoyed Warren and super cool bass player Sarah Brockett , but keyboard player Christina Prostano got on my nerves. Still, I’ll say it again, for a bunch of girls (and one guy) they were OK.

Bird of Youth


The Wrens

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