It’s exactly 10 years since Nathan Williams founded the surf-punk Wavves in San Diego. In celebration, their first, eponymous album has just been re-released as a special vinyl issue – an appropriately retro gesture for a band inspired especially by ’60s music.
They were part of a new wave (pun intended) of surf-pop/rock-influenced bands that included Surfer Blood, The Soft Pack, The Drums and Best Coast (with whom Wavves collaborated and whose singer Bethany Cosentino was in an on-off relationship with Williams for some years). And though they may not have ridden the highest crests, they’ve certainly avoided wipeout.
With Wavves now on a short European tour, their sell-out gig at the intimate Tufnell Park Dome offers the first chance in the UK capital to hear them play songs live from last year’s excellent sixth studio album You’re Welcome. On a warm evening in north London, the band turn the place into a sort of Californian beach, with their cool music and chilled-out attitude complemented by constant stage-diving and crowd-surfing from the youngish crowd. It’s lively, but all good clean fun; a far cry from the infamous meltdown at Barcelona’s Primavera festival in 2009 when the shambolic Williams, then hooked on heroin, had to cancel the rest of their European tour.
A lot has changed since then, notably Wavves expanding from a duo to a four-piece outfit, with a more mature Williams – now pushing 32! – letting his talented songwriting do the talking. The band may seem spontaneous but they put on a professional show, admittedly boasting more sweat than subtlety, playing fast and loud, and sometimes descending into a bit of thrash that energises the mosh pit.
The one-hour set was made up of songs mainly from their most recent release and their breakthrough third album King Of The Beach. The lead single from You’re Welcome, the reverb-drenched Daisy, with its surf guitar notes, back beat and soaring backing vocals, goes down a treat. The pumping bass line angrily drives along Animal, Million Enemies is an atypical glam stomp and No Shade mixes fragmented melodic vocals with noise pop and grungy aggression.
The fuzzy Post Acid is played at breakneck speed, while King Of The Beach is in yer face chirpiness. Way Too Much is Green Day-style pop punk, and the distorted So Bored is a reminder of the band’s lo-fi origins. Vocal harmonies (harking back to the Beach Boys) tend to be drowned out by the instrumental crash, and the prettiness of so many of Wavves’ tunes is a bit lost in the sea of noise that the band’s all-out sonic assault creates.
But it’s stirring stuff, with a vibrant connection between the band and fans, who so often get up on stage, maybe exchange a few words or take a selfie, and then dive back again (with Williams reassuring security that they’re cool with it). Inevitably, after a sing-along of final song Green Eyes, the front man himself takes the plunge into the waves of awaiting fans undulating in the mosh pit.