by Peter Brizick
I was excited when I accepted the assignment of providing a show review of The Wytches. After all, they are from Brighton and I have family in Brighton, Michigan. Only after digging in a little deeper in my research did I learn that my sense of geography was way off. They are from Brighton, UK. Alright – so I was only off by about 3,788 miles. If you enjoy useless tidbits and nuggets of information, Brighton, UK was a premier health resort in the 18th century featuring therapeutic sea baths. For quite some time, it’s been known as the London by the Sea due to its cultural significance, proximity to London and its day-tripping citizens. Here’s a good one, oddly enough- Brighton’s largest private-sector employer is American Express. “I bet they love that,” I think to myself sarcastically.
As the North American leg of their tour came to a close, The Wytches played a show in Philly at Boot & Saddle on Friday evening with two local bands opening: Dirt Queen first, followed by Drone Ranger. Before I delve into the meat and potatoes of the show, I am pained to raise a delicate matter that I believe affected all three bands for the worse. I was left unimpressed with the sound production which, I assume, was provided by the venue. It’s not that it was horrible; but when I went back to the audio and video files of the bands which are available on-line, I realized that the live production did not capture the bands at their best in my estimation. In my world and experience, the live performance is the bands’ opportunity to bring to life that which required days, weeks, and months to write, record, and mix. When it doesn’t happen, unfortunately, it’s a missed opportunity.
Moving beyond that issue – Dirt Queen took the stage around 8:30 to a small but slowly-building audience. This trio pumps out a sound larger than the Himalayas. Their initials are DQ – like the ice-cream business, but they do not serve-up sundaes; more like gallon-sized Molotov-cocktails! The performance was filled with heavy and dissonant guitar chords built around the standard power chords, screeching and intentional feedback, and frightening vocal qualities. The bassist was so low and he was digging-in so deep, I thought we might all come out the other side of the world; kind of like when you’re a kid shoveling in the sand at the beach trying to reach China. The drummer provided a heavy, solid, and driving beat that pushed the performance to the brink. It’s always difficult to be the first band on for the night in a lineup of three. I think the guys from Dirt Queen handled it well and demonstrated their musical direction appropriately. Just as a side note – they had free copies of their four-song EP available…in cassette-tape form. My son saw it in the morning, picked it up, and asked “What’s this?” How the times have changed.
In the two-spot was Drone Ranger, another Philly-based band. The dictionary defines a “drone” as a few things: one, a male honeybee who is stingless and makes no honey; two, an unmanned aircraft that navigates without human control; three, a low, continuous humming sound. I’m all-in on the low, humming sound; but this group is not stingless or unmanned, and clearly offers-up quite a bit of honey – extra thick. The dictionary defines a “ranger” as a soldier with special training in fighting at close range. They’ve got that covered too. Or maybe their name is simply a play on the “Lone Ranger”. Regardless, Drone Ranger is an interesting band.
Their songs are well-crafted and show signs of advanced composition abilities without losing the “hooks” that keep people listening. The overall musicianship is excellent and their energy undeniable. Bill Fries, guitarist and lead vocalist, provides a strong presence like most bands require. The band, as a whole, performed with high-octane energy but also provided tastefulness and nuance. Unfortunately, it was with their performance that I was most frustrated due to the sound production issue I mentioned earlier. I also feel that the keyboard support on the recordings, absent on Friday evening, was greatly missed…at least by me. All of that aside, I like Drone Ranger a lot and look forward to the release of their first full-length album which is loosely scheduled for early in 2015 if my information is accurate. We should all be hopeful for their continued development.
The show culminated in The Wytches stepping to the stage in Philadelphia for the first time to an audience that had grown to a little over one hundred by then and had been primed by the previous bands. They served up their own buffet of heat, power, controlled chaos, reverb, throaty vocals, and dark lyrics like in “Digsaw”:
You spin and you wind through the canyons and find
That you span right back where you started
As I weep for my loss and a beloved cross
Then I stood and wept like a gypsy
What makes this band so interesting is the thick, musical stew they create by combining surf-punk riffs, Middle-Eastern style chord progressions and melodies, and an avant-garde approach to lyricism. And yes, at times while listening, you could visualize yourself driving an Aston Martin around the UK countryside in search of the next secret-agent adventure. I guess this is only fitting since the best-known spy/secret agent in modern-day film was also from the UK.
The audience responded very well to the Wytches; song after song showing their enthusiasm by dancing, flashing pictures, recording video clips, and singing-along when appropriate. What makes this reaction possible is the obvious confidence the band has in their show and the energy they expend in order to achieve that reaction. The Wytches, like the previous bands, suffered to a degree from the sound production but they certainly made up for it with intensity, physicality, and a well-crafted sense for the dramatic.
The majority of the show focused on the material from their latest album titled Annabel Dream Reader. Songs like “Gravedweller”, “Wire Frame Mattress”, and “Wide at Midnight” prove how eclectic and electrifying they can be and, hopefully, show us what they have yet to become.
As The Wytches take their leave of America, we wish them safe travels, continued success, and a hope that every-time they use an American Express card in Brighton, they think of their new friends in Philadelphia.