GIG REVIEW: Wednesday w/ Hotline TNT @ 9:30 Club, 1/23

By Max Cohen

Photos by Carolina Carmo

Wednesday, the current ‘it’ band in the alt-country scene, headlined a sold out show at the 9:30 Club on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The North Carolina shoegazers played a relaxed set of highlights from their latest album, the revelatory Rat Saw God, and a bit from 2021’s Twin Plagues, leaning back in the groove of every song. Opening for them on this tour is Hotline TNT, a New York band’s-band hot off the release of their record Cartwheel, which was so beloved by fans and critics it’s sure to catapult them to new heights.

TNT walks onstage to Nintendo Wii loading music before spiraling into the long repetitive intro of “Protocol.” Sporting a dark green spiderweb dye on his shaved head, Will Anderson leads the drone from far stage left with his naked normal-guy voice unburied in the mix. His timbre is low, clear and articulate as he strums with the metered, polite wrist of a Beatle on Ed Sullivan. But that’s TNT’s game: totally controlled sound. The mood is focused while the three guitarists slide claws up and down their necks in unison, only slipping out to quickly push on the guitar’s body and throw in an extra bend. Between songs they all tune out loud and let feedback ring too long for comfort. When you can make out each individual guitar there’s a clear spectrum of distortion, from a light surfy-feel to an ugly spitty fuzz. Alone, none of them are all that loud but they bleed together brilliantly and it becomes one thick collaborative tone.

Anderson is awkward – instead of moving around he flashes cute little hand symbols to mime out the lyrics, making finger goggles around his glasses or tapping his arm where a needle might go when he sings “let it bleed.” He rarely addresses the crowd (the band is never introduced) and when he does it’s in a shock jock vocal fry. Jake Lenderman, the lead guitarist of Wednesday, joins TNT onstage for a cover of “Quiet” by the Smashing Pumpkins, giggling as he bends in unison with the unnamed guitarist far stage right. After ripping through “Trinity,” Anderson kept repeating “It’s Wednesday. It’s Wednesday” in a detached monotone. TNT were about halfway done, we weren’t close to Wednesday yet. But it doesn’t really matter. This is bedroom music; vulnerable, full of longing and made loud for headphones. Everyone’s having a good time so they’re allowed to be weird.

For the final song, “Had 2 Try,” TNT is joined by Wednesday vocalist Karly Hartzman, a nod to the cover they did for 2022’s Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling ’em Up. Sliding in from the back in a zip up hoodie and shiny wraparound sunglasses, Hartzman slips into a low groaning harmony with subtle runs that are so wonderful Anderson’s charming everyman voice feels less important. But he holds up the best he can to uproarious cheers. Hotline TNT are a band to watch, lively, emotive and impressive even if their dreamy jams aren’t easy to mosh to.

People are ready to party when Wednesday struts onstage. Someone right on the barricade lights a joint as “Hot Rotten Grass Smell” starts up (fitting) and their thundering raucous sound takes hold. But Wednesday makes an immediate left turn into “One More Last One,” a smooth atmospheric cut that’s the closest they get to My Bloody Valentine. Pedalsteel player Xandy Chelmis’ mic cuts out leaving Hartzman’s bright falsetto to carry the band as they take their sweet time through this B-side. Then they turn again and play a brand new song while security walks the stoners out of the crowd. A friend of mine once called Hartzman an evil Adrianne Lenker and this track captures that vibe pretty well; “Wound Up Here” has a dark, repetitive twangy groove and lots of alliterative rhymes about feeling unlucky and dejected. It’s a slow, trudging start to the set before they flip back into the hits.

As a live act, Wednesday couldn’t be more philosophically different from Hotline TNT. While every sound TNT makes, including Anderson’s voice, moves as one instrument, Wednesday’s guitars and steel lines weave a messy collage with busy riffs poking past and through each other. On “Chosen To Deserve” Lenderman flexes with quick blues runs while Hartzman coyly drags out the melody like a classic country legend: “I was out late, sneakin’ into the neighborhood pool / Then I woke up early and taught at the Sunday school.” She’s never easy to sing along to, but here she’s toying with the crowd and making it harder on purpose. At times, the seams show and their whole sound shakes and threatens to spin out, but drummer Alan Miller and bassist Ethan Baetchtold steer true through sharp tempo changes and huge dynamic shifts. They do this beautifully on their cover of Gary Stewart’s “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin Double).” Hartzman drops the guitar, takes a big swig straight from a bottle of Casamigos and hops the barricade to sing in the crowd. People are losing it but then she gets stuck in the audience. “I don’t really know how to get over if I’m being honest! If someone could help me back up,” she pleads between verses. Her voice cuts out as she front flips over the gate and scrambles back onstage to don her guitar just in time for a final jam where she cutely bumps foreheads with her concerned boyfriend, Lenderman.

In the back half of the set she’s clearly a little drunk. Not sloppy, but medicating. This was their fifth night in a row playing shows and while the band was grateful for the rowdy kids in the crowd holding hands and spinning in circles, Wednesday seemed like they could use a break. Lenderman stood still a lot and would often rest his hands on his hips like a tired dad when not playing. The crowd didn’t seem to care– cheers and hoots rang through the room for “Quarry,” and heads bobbed over the perfect, warm guitar solo on “Gary’s.” Hartzman takes a moment to introduce the band but forgets herself. Chelmis and Lenderman shout her out at the same time, “In case you thought her name was Wednesday,” chimes Lenderman.

Finally, Hartzman takes one more swig and prepares for “Bull Believer,” their eight and half minute endurance test masterpiece. “I don’t know about y’all but I’ve never dreaded an election year more in my life” she chuckles gravely, before inviting us all to scream the fear out with her and promising no encore. The seedy, mysterious sound builds while Hartzman glassily eyes the balcony, neck tilted to the side. Then Miller, arms raised high above his head, rips a massive fill into the sludgy doom breakdown. The room swells with a chorus of dying goat shrieks, “FINISH HIM! FIIIIIIIIIINNIIIIIIISHHH HIIIIIIM!” Suddenly the band drops out, Hartzman lingers for a moment, pinches off a final chord hard and, with a quick “thanks,” they’re gone. Next to me a group of six 50+ year-old men jump up and down, giddy to have witnessed such raw guitar power. I wade through the crowd feeling concerned.

The last time I saw Wednesday they crushed a Father’s Day set at the Black Cat and, in the calm aftermath while people cleared out, I watched from the merch line as Hartzman slow danced with her dad on the checkered floor, her grandparents and bandmates lovingly looking on. On Tuesday, it seemed they could all use a bit of peace like that. But with a tour extending through May there’s no rest for the weary. Every daughter of God has to get back in the van sometimes.

Wednesday are a great band that can do good ol’ southern roots rock and tragic vulnerability all at once. And they’re worth rooting for – Rat Saw God was the best album of last year and even exhausted Wednesday is personable and funny as they do their best to show each other up. The sound of the new songs recalls their earlier work on I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone which has me excited for their next release. I just hope while Wednesday is having their moment that they can relax a little. It might make their live shows that much more fun.

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