February 11, 2011
It's not often that an opening band steals the spotlight from two far more prominent headliners, especially by playing what amounted to only a 20+ minute set. But that is just what happened at the sold-out Varsity Theater on Friday night, as the Montreal quartet No Joy delivered a blistering opening set that both Wavves and Best Coast ultimately couldn't match. The energy and intensity level that was set so high early in the night continually waned as the evening wore on, so that by the time Best Coast finished their set it seemed sleepy and tame by comparison.
No Joy tore through a handful of volatile tracks from their debut Ghost Blonde during their explosive but all-too-short set, not letting up on the impenetrable feedback between songs in order for those of us that were enjoying their set to voice any type of approval. Coming across as a more shoegazey version of Sonic Youth, with crunchy, deafening riffs straight out of the Pacific Northwest, both Jasmine White-Glutz and Laura Lloyd simply slayed on guitar, creating a relentless wall of noise that simply enveloped everyone in the room.
It was a performance by a band that clearly had plenty to prove and nothing really to lose, as nearly everyone in the crowd were obviously there to see Wavves and Best Coast. But hopefully, after giving us just a taste of their lush, incendiary sound at the Varsity, it won't be too long until No Joy come back to Minneapolis to play a longer, headlining set of their own and cultivate more fans in the process. I know they certainly gained quite a few new fans with this performance.
The bar was obviously set pretty high by the openers, so Wavves taking the stage to a song from the Lion King seemed to be a perfect way to deflect any high expectations that the crowd had from the San Diego-based band. But as beach balls and inflatable aliens were tossed into the crowd in order to foster a festive atmosphere, it seemed that Nathan Williams was determined to keep the energy level high throughout Wavves 50-minute set, wailing away on guitar a bit more than usual while mercifully keeping the meandering small talk that has derailed a few of his shows to a minimum.
The band seemed remarkably focused throughout their set (at least in comparison to other less coherent performances I've seen from the band), except when drummer Jacob Cooper jokingly exclaimed "We love you Milwaukee," perhaps to elicit some kind of a response from the tamer members of the audience that were serenely waiting for Best Coast to come on. The 16-song set, which featured one brand new, quite poppy number mixed in with a liberal sampling of the more familiar beach-punk from Wavves first three records, did sag a bit towards the middle (despite the band dedicating "No Hope Kids" to a couple they caught making out in the crowd) as the straightforward songs started to sound the same. But the trio really picked things up dynamically at the end, boldly covering Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown," before ending their set with a raucous version of "Green Eyes" that was one of the standouts of the performance, and the customary closer "Post Acid" that finished things on a high (pardon the pun) note.
Best Coast tried to keep the party going by exuberantly coming on stage to the sounds of 2Pac's "California Love," giving some props to their home state while also trying to get the crowd moving before they even played a note. But while the sun-drenched songs of love and longing by Bethany Cosentino were pleasant to hear and suitably played, there was a lack of spirit and bounce to the performance that left most of these numbers ringing a bit hollow. It just didn't seem like Cosentino's heart was in this show, and that the rigors of the road were taking a bit of a toll on her. She didn't seem nearly as playful and charming as she was at the Triple Rock back in September (although she did give the venue a shout-out by claiming they have great food over there), and the encoreless 55-minute set sagged a bit as a result.
The band debuted two decent, sun-inspired new songs during the performance, as well as two well-chosen covers by female songwriters Cosentino obviously admires and draws inspiration from: a spirited rendition of "Fist City" by Loretta Lynn, and a lively run through "That's The Way Boys Are" by Lesley Gore. But for the most part, the 18-song set lacked a definite spark and fizzled out a bit towards the end, as it appeared the band just wanted to call it a night. It's a testament to how catchy and blissfully upbeat Cosentino's songs are that the set didn't end up being a total wash out, and was still quite enjoyable in spots. But hopefully, Best Coast can regroup a bit after their tour as they eventually get to work on their second album, and come back through Minneapolis a bit more inspired next time. They could take some notes from No Joy's performance if they need any encouragement.
Critic's Bias: Coming in I was most excited to see Best Coast followed closely by Wavves, and only had a remote inkling of who No Joy was, but leaving the show, all I could talk about was No Joy. I'm definitely a new fan.
The Crowd: Even though it was a sold-out show, I've definitely seen the Varsity more crowded than it was on Friday night. Maybe fans of Wavves left after their set, while Best Coast fans didn't show up until right before they came on. Whatever the case was, I was happy to have plenty of room to enjoy the show.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Dude, bite the head off that alien."
Random Notebook Dump: Bethany was a bit sad that she didn't get to make it to the Mall Of America this time through Minneapolis, claiming "You guys might hate it, but the MOA is fuckin' dope."
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Anna Gulbrandsen.
Best Coast Setlist:
Crazy For You
When The Sun Don't Shine
I Want To
Sunny Adventure (New Song)
Fist City (Loretta Lynn)
Something In The Way
That's The Way Boys Are (Lesley Gore)
When You Wake Up (New Song)
Sun Was High (So Was I)
When I'm With You
Each & Everyday
Friends Were Gone
Take On The World
To The Dregs
King Of The Beach
In The Sand
No Hope Kids
Nervous Breakdown (Black Flag)