Boy, that Nathan Williams sure shows off a lot of conviction behind his songs. The Wavves frontman/master-slacker introduced one of his numbers this way Friday night at the Varsity Theater: “I’m, like, all sad in this song and whatnot.”
Between Williams’ blasé attitude, his trio’s bratty and seemingly boozy antics (see also: “We love you, Milwaukee!”) and the fact that their main artistic statement seems to be playing Descendents-style skater-punk with ample reverb on top to disguise it as hip, psychedelic indie-rock, Wavves proved to be quite the underwhelming buzz band. Although, the San Diego kids were actually a little better than the previous time I saw them (at SXSW). At least this time they showed their roots and picked a fun cover, Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown,” though they didn’t have the know-how to change it up even a wee bit and try to make it their own.
Friday’s sold-out, largely under-21 Varsity gig offered three lo-fi bands with enough cutesiness between them to open their own thrift store. Wavves was the only one that came off as musically cut-rate, though. The Montreal-reared, all-female guitar-whir duo No Joy actually walked away with the biggest buzz of the night off its brief opening set. As for Williams’ girlfriend Bethany Cosentino’s band, Best Coast (the night’s headliner), it’s still a bit of a work-in-progress, but Cosetino herself seemed like the real deal.
For one thing, Cosentino showed the conviction that Williams eschewed. She’s still singing the songs off last year’s debut “Crazy for You” -- juvenile pop songs about boys and breakups – as if they were still the most important things in her life (besides her kitty, of course). Her attitude was also sweet instead of snotty, like when she paid a shout-out to the Triple Rock, where her band previously played in town: “They have awesome food there,” she noted. Best of all, her voice and her knack for layering her songs with delicious pop icing were evident throughout the hourlong set, whether she was singing with Jenny Lewis-like purr in “Far Away” or with more Liz Phair snarl in “Goodbye.” The high point came three-quarters of the way in, when she pulled off a playful cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” and immediately wham-bammed into her own “Boyfriend.”
Cosentino was impressive enough as young singer/songwriters go, her lo-fi, slacker-esque, two-guitar band felt a bit like an undersell, although drummer Bobb Bruno (also of the Vivian Girls) was a genuine kick. Simply adding a bassist would go a long way, but she could go a lot farther than that, too. One can’t help but wonder what Cosentino’s Phil Spector-ish songs might sound like with Spector-sized production. Granted, she’d probably lose her cred with Wavves fans, but how bad could that be?