Elevated cribbing: Wild Nothing played the Southern on Sunday

Guest post by Spencer Peterson

Sunday night at the Southern, when the Blacksburg band Wild Nothing was called out for an encore, Jack Tatum came out beaming—or maybe just blushing and looking down. Whatever counts for beaming for a frontman as modest and unassuming as he is. It was an exciting moment for a small band at a small venue. More than one band-member-mom swooped in to take pictures. “Virginia is for lovers,” Tatum said, and continued playing.

Wild Nothing’s "Chinatown"

Wild Nothing came out of nowhere (read: Blacksburg) with its first album Gemini, a critical favorite that got a nod last year in Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of 2010, where Wild Nothing was aptly and not unaffectionately described as “a joint partnership between Virginia’s Jack Tatum and the 1980s.” The songs on Gemini, recorded on GarageBand, a mixer and mic by Tatum during his last semester at Virginia Tech, rely on sounds pioneered by artists like Cocteau Twins, Primal Scream and The Cure. The reverb-heavy guitar is there, as are the sprightly bass lines and drum machine beats. Tatum even sings with a hint of a British accent.

At the Southern, Tatum’s live band opened with “Golden Haze,” one of the warmest summer love anthems of 2010. Tatum showed his hand as the group’s maestro early on, with multiple requests for barely noticeable soundboard tweaks. If Wild Nothing’s live show is about control, it certainly pays off—every strum pattern and lithe melodic lead was taut, seemingly effortless.

More below.

Even when Wild Nothing came to Charlottesville for the first time this February, christening Trinity Irish Pub as an occasional music venue, the showing was surprisingly big, and last night was no different. Seeing this kind of turnout for a group that channels the U.K. in the ’80s begs the question about the line between rehashing and renewal. Of course, Picasso apparently once said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” As a breakout songwriter, apparently its enough that Jack Tatum writes good songs in a nostalgic mode.

But Tatum is pretty candid about where he borrows from. In an Express interview, he said that "when it comes down to it, I feel more like a fan of music than a musician, so why would I try to hide what I was listening to or what I wanted my music to sound like? That might be true of most musicians, whether they say it or not: Your output is dependent on the input."

But even if Wild Nothing’s recordings trade in nostalgia, it’s the band’s live shows that project them past it, with songs like the ebullient "Live in Dreams" or the pouty "Summer Holiday" given a breath of life when freed from the hazy and thin production values of Gemini.

The Richmond glam band Black Girls, who opened along with Infinite Jets, cites influences ranging from T. Rex to R. Kelly to Steely Dan. It was hard to see them make true on all of them, as their Kevin Barnes-ish lead singer falsettoed over impressive instrumentation. As a young Virginia band, these white boys would do well to watch how Wild Nothing does its recycling.

What did you think of the show?

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