Live Review: Wet with Kelsey Lu at Barboza 2/9/2016

Live Reviews
02/17/2016
Jacob Webb
photos by Brittany Brassell (view set)

Like many of the buzzy debut albums in a post-xx world, Wet's Don't You lives in a quiet, emotionally-focused space, so it was fitting that they played in one of the city's more intimate rooms for their debut headline gig in Seattle. But as far as debut gigs go, Wet's was anything but a small affair. Sold out months in advance to a particularly fervent audience – this writer has only ever experienced maybe one audience singalong at Barboza in the last few years and Wet had at least five that night – the Brooklyn trio responded to the sweltering hype that has surrounded them for the past year with a stage show that's surprisingly already primed for big stages. In one of the best-lit and well-mixed performances in Barboza in recent memory, Wet sounded far bigger and more enveloping than a band of their lifespan could be reasonably expected to, and the packed-to-the-gills club could tell from the first note.

Opening the night was Brooklyn-based songwriter Kelsey Lu, whose charismatic presence augmented her melodic, wide-reaching songs. In her thirty or so minutes onstage, Lu bounced between playing cello and guitar, working those sections into Andrew Bird-style loops, and then singing the hell out of her voice on top of her instrumentals. (Which, if the artist can technically pull it off, remains a top-notch game plan for solo performers of all types.) But the subtle resonance of her songs belied her onstage presence, as Lu (quite boldly) took to emphatically requesting that the room fall nearly silent before she began playing a song written about her deceased grandmother. The audience (mostly) obliged, and it provided the foundation for what was Lu's strongest performance all night. Which is fortuitous, because if the song had fallen flat, Lu could've been remembered as the opening act who stopped her set to tell the audience to be quiet. Instead, as people left the venue that night, she was the opening act who followed through on her promise to bring the audience along with her down an enrapturing set of songs.

The most notable difference between Wet's studio and live takes on their recently-increased catalog is that in a live setting, and now supported by a live drummer, their typically downtempo, flowing songs have a stronger low-end punch that ensures the quartet will not get swallowed whole by the countless festival stages they'll play across the next 18 months. But in the meantime, that also means that the tracks from Don't You, and the handful of non-album tracks, are suddenly far more anthemic in the small club setting the band will only be in for a few more weeks. At the core of this performance, however, is Kelly Zutrau, who is, at least for now, a frontwoman who seems significantly more connected to her songs than the audience while she's onstage, rarely varying from her go-to pose of holding the microphone in one hand and the cord in the other. That's not to say she's a bad frontwoman by any means, just an unorthodox one. Her lyrics, direct and unadorned, are only outdone by the intuitive hooks of her melodies – when critics disagree with Zutrau's repeatedly expressed '90s R&B influence, they're usually overlooking her mellifluous, languid hooks that, in another era, could work seamlessly with a layered Darkchild production – and instead of working the audience, she spent the entire set wandering around her narratives of falling in and out of love in New York.

Zutrau could have across as distant when singing the monstrous hooks behind "You're The Best" or "It's All In Vain" to herself, but the entire audience was in her palm the entire evening, singing along to the majority of the songs, even those that had only been released a week before the show. While not in the same prominent position as Zutrau, her bandmates, guitarist Marty Sulkow and multi-instrumentalist Joe Valle, are equally as adept as performers, although slightly more showy than their reserved singer. Sulkow's twinkling guitar runs and Valle's impressively dextrous switching between keys, samples, bass, and percussion, are the backbone of Wet's songs, which is easier to hear when watching the pair play off of each other, keeping pace with Zutrau and steadying the performance. Like the album they're on tour supporting, the show was, if nothing else, consistent and well-executed, which could certainly be interpreted as being boring – especially since the name dominating music right now is acting anything but – but there's a lot to be said for a band that knows what they've set out to do and following through on it. And while all of the songs Wet played at Barboza that night fit what's become the band's template – atmospheric keys and guitars supporting a series of slinky hooks – that's a formula with a lot to like (or at least to start a beef over). Barboza was already too small of a venue for Wet when they played it on that Tuesday night, but that was the point of the underplay – to get a glimpse of what Wet can do in a small live setting before they go out to sell these songs to bigger rooms for the rest of the year (and, in all likelihood, a good chunk of 2017.)

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