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The Wrens at the Middle East

It was that MidEast security guard’s worst nightmare. At midnight, right before “Boys, You Won’t,” Kevin Whelan passed out about 20 drum sticks to people in the crowd and invited them up on the stage while Mr. Beef-Guard scowled and shook and crossed his arms over his chest, probably wondering if he’d be fired before 2 am. The kids gathered around the Wrens (Kevin Whelan, Charles Bissell, Greg Whelan, Jerry MacDonnell) like disciples to their barefooted prophet, banging sticks against everything from their own sweaty palms to the mic stand, scream-singing at a pitch that undoubtedly disturbed the folks at ZuZu while Whelan bent over his keys and the four piece’s incredible guitarist/co-vocalist Charles Bissell doubled over, coaxing sounds out of his tape delay that I’m sure made opener Craig Wedren insanely jealous. One YeahDude was in such a state of ecstasy, I thought his eyes would roll back in his head and he’d faint from the sheer indie-rock joy of it all.

 

The Wrens might look like 40-year-old dads worn out by mid-life, yet they’re a testament to the romantic ideal of independent. Everyone knows the sob story: their label(s) shitting on them for years, every rock critic worth his byline drooling all over themselves, and rightly so, over 2003’s indie-opus The Meadowlands, even as they’ve still refused to sign a deal with a major and make any of their fuzz-pop gems sound radio-friendly enough to follow a Coldplay track, that their live shows have a reputation for being wilder and more unpredictable their own terrible luck. But what about the fact that they’re cool and generous enough to throw 10 free t-shirts to the audience at their sold-out gig last night? That in a basement room that smelled of Boston College BO and hair products, the atmosphere could get more tense than a first therapy appointment, going from dead silence during the brief “The House that Guilt Built” to absolute mayhem during “Hopeless” and “Everyone Chooses Sides”? That Whelan was blissed-out enough to pause, flinging sweat off his forehead, wild-eyed from singing about the worst break-up fall-out in history after “Happy,” a song that builds from finger-picked heartbreak to pummeling anthem in about three minutes, and say, “We’re the Wrens from New Jersey, but you are so fucking awesome we’re going to change our name to the Wrens from Boston.” In the blue lights, he looked young again. They all did.

 

--Sharon Steel

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