The Whigs are either from Nashville or from Athens, Ga., depending on who you ask. Not that it matters, when it comes to their live show. The band played The Grey Eagle last Friday on the heels of two cancelled shows, and they performed with the kind of out-of-the-gate intensity of a band kept cooped up too long.
The trio — singer/guitarist Parker Gispert, drummer Julian Dorio and bassist Timothy Deaux — walked onstage to piped-in intro music before launching into “Hot Bed.” Not that there was a warm-up period to the show, but by the second number — the heavy “Black Lotus,” Dorio was already punishing his drum kit and Gispert was lunging and hair-flinging. But even though The Whigs are loud, they’re still crisp. Theirs is a wall of sound built on an armory of percussion, and yet each nuance is felt, each lyric is heard.
“Already Young,” driving and malicious, bobs and weaves around the hook, “I don’t care what your old man thinks.” It’s a rock anthem with teeth — the kind of riled romance that The Whigs do well. Dorio’s drumming was so intense that it could be felt through the floor boards; Gispert and Deaux shook streams of feed back from their guitars. (For anyone keeping count, Deaux had three basses on stage and Gispert had six guitars.)
This is a band that knows how to write an anthem. “Staying Alive” — their original, not a BeeGees cover — starts off with a hiccuping rhythm that plows into an apocalyptic jam that isn’t really a jam as much as a sonic assault. Dorio’s hair whipped, frenzied, in the tempest of his full-body drumming. Gispert writhed on the floor and Deaux stripped down to a tank-top before the maelstrom dropped off to a cool calm.
The crowd (not nearly as large as the band deserved) undulated in a communal stunned wiggle. At least one guy head-banged until the mood shifted with the funkier, Bo Diddley-esque lead-in to “Production City.” From that song (from 2008’s Mission Control) to catchy new single, “Hit Me,” (from the forthcoming album Modern Creation), Gispert has this way of singing that’s both emotive and easygoing. Like he’s figured out how to get the passion across without torturing his vocal chords.
The Whigs also really get the importance of dynamics in music. Yes, they play hard, but their songs are heavy and hooky. Hard, with room for softness. Loud, but with turn-on-dime moments of utter control and reserve. A Whigs song is probably best turned up to teeth-chattering volume, but play any album softly in a pair of headphones and it’s every bit as keenly forceful.
The band tried out another new song — “Friday Night,” a just-shy-of-thrash number that came off like a speeded-up Ramones song. In a good way. Garage-y and poppy with a pedal-to-metal thrust. And, because The Whigs are not a post-punk band, they rounded out the sound with plenty of big, spacey, psychedelic-leaning atmospherics.
The rest of the evening was dedicated to older material: “Hundred/Million,” with its spoken-word verses and Gispert wrestling weird notes from the neck of his guitar, his fingers flying like he was dodging electric sparks. The more dancey “Half The World Away,” with Gispert on keys (“Do you have a really lonely reverb you could put on that?” he asked the sound man before beginning the song). And — after taking a Polaroid photo of the audience, “Rock and Roll Forever.”
That song is, of course, anthemic. Wryly so. A rallying cry with a wink. That’s what The Whigs do, and that’s why the prospect of a new album this spring is so exciting.