Over the past six months, the San Diego no-fi outfit Wavves has notoriously made a better bedroom project than live band. But their performance last night on the Pitchfork stage at Barcelona, Spain's Primavera Sound Festival was nothing short of spectacular, as a combination of a difficult soundcheck and absolutely foul moods resulted in what must have been the most epic onstage meltdown a band of their small size could conjure.
From the moment they took the stage, the duo was clearly not in any kind of mood to be playing to a potentially adoring crowd at one of the raddest independent music festivals in the world, on the shores of Catalunya's Mediterranean Coast. While the audience-- riding high on colossal sets from Phoenix, My Bloody Valentine, and Aphex Twin on alternate stages-- grew increasingly impatient, singer/guitarist Nathan Williams fumbled through a disastrous soundcheck, alternately bickering with drummer Ryan Ulsh, complaining at the sound guy, and confusing the three components of their setup (drums, guitar, and vocals) on the monitors.
Still unsatisfied more than 15 minutes into their scheduled 2:20 a.m. set time, Nathan finally succumbed to shouts from the restless crowd and began lifelessly strumming his guitar in what appeared to be totally random chord progressions. As drummer Ryan struggled in vain to find a tempo for Nathan's seasick improvisation, the music slowly turned into a half-speed, instrumental approximation of the Wavves ballad "Weed Demon"-- a song which, on record, doesn't have a drum part.
After five minutes of directionless strumming and arbitrary snare hits, Nathan dodged the evening's first bottle and decided to wind the aimless tune to an abrupt close. Then, rubbing his hands against his face, he declared in annoyed resignation, "All right, hi everybody, we're Wavves," and launched into an off-key version of "Summer Goth." The band's playing improved steadily until hitting a sort-of stride with a sloppy rendition of the song everyone had come to see, "So Bored". For a brief moment, the crowd was rapt, singing and pogoing along, earning the band a fleeting moment of goodwill.
But things declined quickly from there, as between songs, Nathan began ineptly mocking the crowd ("Ooooooh, I'm on ecstasy!"), going off at length about his preference for California over Spain, and eventually telling them the festival was "one of the coolest things we've been part of in a while," dripping with sarcasm. Finally, fed up with Nathan's petulant behavior, Ryan ran out from behind his drumkit and poured a full cup of beer over Nathan's head. The act would be met with their most enthusiastic applause of the evening.
At 3:00 a.m. sharp, having dodged their share of bottles and even a shoe (neither Nathan nor Ryan was hit, although Nathan likely made impact with some unlucky attendee upon forcefully returning the latter object back to the crowd), the show mercifully came to a screeching halt: Ryan ran offstage, throwing his drumsticks at Nathan. Infuriated, Nathan screamed into the mic, "Come back here, motherfucker, we're not done yet!" Immediately, stage crew appeared, breaking down Ryan's kit. "Fuck!" Nathan shouted, "Stop doing that!" They didn't, so Nathan decided the show must go on. Helplessly, he strummed his guitar again, clearly intent on playing another song. But as he stepped back to the mic, he realized it had been cut. As the crowd booed, the house lights came up, and a defeated Nathan Williams threw his hands up and left, along with the few remaining attendees.
Tragically, this show marked only the second date of Wavves' mammoth European tour. Tonight, they'll be in Lisbon, Portugal, before heading on to France, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, and the UK, ending with a set at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago in July-- assuming they don't murder each other first. Dates are below.