So last weekend I went to see Wheatus at Thekla in Bristol. This is the 5th time I have seen them play live, and I must admit that I am a huge fan. Most people respond with “didn’t they do that teenage dirtbag song?” or “are they still around?!” when I speak to them about Wheatus. Well I’m here to tell you that they are around, and they are awesome.
First on the bill is singer-songwriter, Mike Doughty. Mike’s band features three members of Wheatus, which probably makes him an easy tour-mate! If I had to label his music, I’d probably call it electrified folk. He also played a super cool, old school green Fender Coronado hollow-body.
One of the things Wheatus do really well is the lack of a setlist. The first thing Brendan says when he gets on the stage is “OK, what do you guys wanna hear first?” They run the whole gig like this; every song is a request. I love this; as an audience member, it really makes you feel like you are connected to the band.
That Wheatus sound
The band configuration for this tour is a 7 piece with three backing vocalists. The brilliant sound in Thekla really helped the vocals shine, particularly with the complex harmonies on songs like From Listening to Lightning. Plus, Thekla is a boat that has been turned into a venue. A boat!!
BBB’s approach to guitar tone isn’t exactly what you would call orthodox… He appeared to be using a digital modeller linked to his laptop, through which he was running a custom 335 style guitar made by a Japanese company called Seventy-Seven Guitars. It’s white, and knowing that he’s a big Rush fan, is possibly styled after Alex Lifeson’s famous axe. Here’s the clincher though, he gets all of his acoustic and distorted sounds from a Piezo pickup in this one guitar. It doesn’t even have any magnetic pickups or visible controls on the body.
The acoustic sounds are typical of a piezo pickup into the PA, and with the help of the BBB’s guitar rig it is reasonably pleasant. The distorted sounds, however, are another matter. It’s not what would be traditionally thought of as a ‘good’ guitar tone. There’s an aggressive hollowness and biting top end that sounds almost fizzy, and it sounds like the distortion is sort of layered on top of a clean sound. Despite this, it’s actually a pretty appealing tone in some strange way… Add to this that BBB uses a pretty huge array of weird effects and strange patches, and you start to see that all of it is a stylistic choice that seems to fit brilliantly with the band’s overall sound.
You can tell by the body language and banter that the guys in the band are all great friends who love playing music together. The interaction between the members is fantastic, and it’s obvious that they love what they do and care for the people that come to see them. BBB even stopped the show to make sure someone who fell over in the front row was ok.
To summarise, Wheatus are awesome and put on a truly great show. To everyone who only knows them for Teenage Dirtbag, I implore you. There’s more to Wheatus than that song! Buy a couple of their albums, pick a few favourites, and shout them out at their next gig.
Personally I love the new single, Tipsy, and I shall be shouting it out next time I go to see them. If you have Spotify you can listen to it below.
At the time of writing, Wheatus are still on tour. You can check out dates near you and book tickets here. Go on, you know you want to!