Wet Brings Tales of Romantic Distress to Bowery Ballroom: Live Review

Wet
Review
3.5
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In songs by the band Wet, affection is an enervating force (as lead singer Kelly Zutrau puts it, “our love is dangerous”) and inertia is a common state: one track futilely declares, “it’s all in vain.” The trio brought their stories of romantic disarray to a sold out Bowery Ballroom last night (Jan. 28) in Manhattan before releasing a debut album today.

Wet’s eponymous 2013 EP connected them to a surge that started towards the end of the ‘00s with groups like The xx and How To Dress Well, and carried forward through Rhye, Jessie Ware, some of Ariel Rechstaid’s productions, and parts of the new Carly Rae Jepsen album. These various projects are linked by an interest in malleable, adult-oriented music: ‘70s soft rock or ‘80s R&B. Reinterpreting these sources two decades later has created a new wave of lounge-friendly sophisti-pop -- made by fresh young faces with a blog following. 

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On Wet’s debut, Don’t You, the telltale signs can be found in the guitar tone -- lissome and pin-prick light, like something from a Frankie Beverly record -- and the curvature and breathy multi-tracking of the hooks. These tropes are spruced up with great care using all the tools of modern production. Listen to the drum programming on “It’s All In Vain” on high volume in headphones -- it flutters differently in each ear. In the back of “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl,” a male voice sneaks in a fleeting high harmony, something Lindsey Buckingham might have done on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. On the EP version of the track, there’s a sound like keys rustling in the left ear around the 1:50 mark. 

These intricacies are one of the strengths of Don’t You, which has the disadvantage of arriving at the tail end of a trend and feeling monotonic at times. Headphone-friendly minutiae are very difficult to recreate in a live setting though, so Wet didn’t try. At the Bowery Ballroom, Zutrau sang clearly, with a slight quaver, sometimes flexing her muscles and sustaining powerful, ringing notes. She also sang alone -- there were no additional voices that rose to counter hers, nothing to hide behind, and nothing to add depth when that was needed.

But weightlessness felt like the focus. Though Wet usually functions as a three-piece, they added an additional percussionist for the show, and together the two drummers conjured a steady stream of light ticks. These mixed with Zutrau’s voice, chiming guitar, and a bath of golden lighting to create an airy dreamscape. The bass was mostly programmed, and it didn’t make much of a dent in the mix, so all sounds seemed to drift upward. The singer worked without a mic stand, ungrounded. She would sometimes turn 90 degrees -- backlit by gold, her profile dissolved into darkness.  

The shadows matched the sense of uncertainty that ruled her songs. Second guesses pervaded “All The Ways,” where present happiness can’t wipe away the anticipation of future misery. In “No Lie,” the singer was overwhelmed: “I can’t shake this; I’m so anxious.”

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“Weak” was the final song and the night’s most vigorous one: aggressive activity from the drummers corralled the mist, instilling it with substance and shape. The result was a heaving wall of pleas. Unsurprisingly, it all came tumbling down: “Just the thought of you leavin’ had me on my knees,” sang Zutrau. Love -- and high production values -- claimed another casualty.