All photos by Chris Wood.
Perhaps the first thing that stands out about The Whigs, from Athens, Ga., is that for three guys they create a huge sound. Screaming guitars, booming bass, crashing drums: check. The next thing that stands out: Between them, they have a lot of hair. A lot. And they use it, whipping it, tossing it, head banging their way through each driving, rock-fueled song. Which raises the question, like Samson, is hair the secret to the Whigs’ power?
Possibly. One thing’s for sure: This trio came to Bele Chere ready to kiss ass and take names. They launched their Friday set on the Coxe Avenue stage with the kind of raucous, frenetic energy that found instant popularity for The Strokes back in 2001. But three albums in (and a fourth on the way), the Whigs haven’t made any major missteps. Songs like “Black Lotus” and “Hundred/Million” from their most recent album, In The Dark showcase why they’re the opener of choice for the likes of Kings of Leon.
Front man Parker Gisper told Xpress that he suffers no delusions that the Whigs are playing stadium shows based on their own drawing power, but watching the band howl, muscle and finesse their way through their show, it’s not hard to imagine that headlining stadiums is in their future. They play like rock stars. They lose themselves in the music. Gispert leaps and bucks, gives air kicks. Bassist Timothy Deaux performs spooky slide parts, takes turns on the keys and sings backup. Drummer Julian Dorio is the human version of Animal, the Muppet drummer (though much better looking), all flying mane and attacking biceps.
Older songs — “Nothing Is Easy,” “Don’t Talk Anymore” and “Half the World Away” offered some insight to the bands’ early influences. Nods to the Beatles in their melody lines, a lighter touch that has since given way to rock prowess. While songs like “Written Invitation” and “So Lonely” show off Gispert’s abilities as a songwriter, that aspect of the band is tempered with some serious southern rock roots. “Right Hand on My Heart” — one highlight of the set — had the crowd singing along while the band ended up taking its instrumental break with backs to the audience, playing guitars directly into amps. The songs ended with Gispert laying on the stage.
Another highlight was “Dying,” featuring Dorio’s percussion. The thick, heavy song has only a few lyrics (“It used to be right in front of you but now its gone” and “Somebody better come speed up your heart cuz its dying”) but goes a long way to showing just how hard the Whigs can rock. Dorio pummeled his kit with a set of mallets and the intensity build between the guitars could second as the soundtrack to the battle between alien dinosaurs. And yet, for all the menace and snarl, the Whigs are adept at reeling the chaos back in for a tight finish.
On a hot July night, the Whigs brought just even more heat to the stage (Gispert, at once point, did dedicate a song to “my fan, blowing on me and keeping me cool”), testing out a few new tracks, impressing with a high energy back catalog and leaving the crowd looking forward to the next record.