The Wrens @ Sonar, Baltimore MD
“Keeping people waiting since 1989”… it’s not really a motto, a mission statement, or even a by-line, but it is a statement of fact, one that you’ll see if you happen upon The Wrens website. In their 20-plus year existence, they’ve made only three full elpeez, a handful of eepeez, and they don’t get out and play a whole lot, but if yer ears have somehow been lucky enough to come into contact with their music, yer probably hooked and willing to wait for more. Nobody does a better job of setting the complete arc of romance to music than The Wrens.
So when The Wrens announced their “National Two-City Tour”, I really really wanted to be there. Philadelphia was impossible, but Baltimore was totally do-able since I have family and friends in the area. Tickets and arrangements were made to get to The Wrens show at Baltimore’s Sonar.
Sonar is a small club that holds about 150 people, tops. My guess is that about 100 people showed up, which was surprising to me… I expected the place to be packed. This was, after all, on the Eastern Seaboard, just south of The Wrens home stomping grounds of Jersey, but that didn’t happen. Rock is fickle.
A band from Brooklyn named The Postelles started the show late with some energetic renderings of their original songs that sounded just like The Strokes. As usual, The Postelles label Capitol Records is a decade behind the times.
Then out come The Wrens… first the Whelan brothers… Greg on guitar and Kevin, seated at a Yamaha keyboard, all notes played whisper soft. Charles Bissell walks on with his guitar and plugs in. Drummer Jerry MacDonnell takes a seat and touches nothing, waiting. This light, atmospheric opening that I can’t recognize shifts into “This Boy Is Exhausted” (from their third elpee, Meadowlands) once Kevin Whelan leaves the keyboards and picks up that bashed-up bass he’s been playing forever. Bissell takes the lead vocal, the Whelans dive into the lush harmonies that are their trademark as MacDonnell brings the song to full gallop. They bring it back down again to start up “Hopeless”, (also from Meadowlands) all shimmering guitar notes and Kevin’s hushed vocal until they build it all up in the middle and then let loose with a flurry of electric guitar.
The highlight of the night was “I’ve Made Enough Friends” from Secaucus. It’s a goose-bump producing hymn to the ecstatic uncertainty of a new relationship, probably the best ever written. Seriously. It’s also the song where The Wrens do everything they do best. Bissell leads it, his voice slightly huskier than that of the Whelans. They build the volume and tension throughout the song, and by the final third, the Whelans and Bissell are in a gale force harmony and wailing the absolute shit out of their instruments. All the thrill and anxiety and sheer desperation pours out here:
“Undo your buckle while you bite at my neck / I’ve waited no end / I’ve made enough friends…”
”We’re down to nothing and I can’t stop shaking / You’re nothing but
skin / I think we’re done in…”
All in all, it was a pretty short show, a little over an hour. The Wrens played a total of twelve songs, but hey… it’s The Wrens. I was just happy that after more than 15 years, I got to see them play “I’ve Made Enough Friends”. It was a transcendent moment. If you’ve ever woken from a dream of a lover who’s thousands of miles away with the scent of non-existent lilacs filling the room, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to have yer heart broken and lived to tell about it, The Wrens are yer band. They’ve been there, done it big, and wrote the ultimate soundtrack for it.
After the show, I spoke to Kevin Whelan for just a bit. I had two questions for him: Are you recording, and are you going to do a real tour anytime soon. “Yes and yes” were the answers.
I’m happy to wait.