My favorite Billboard chat was always the Heatseekers Chart. Defined generally as the best selling new artists, it was always the place to go if you wanted to hear someone before everyone else heard them. Blogs such as this one have pretty much destroyed the value of this chart, as now to hear someone first, you need to be the first person to Tweet about them. Well, I still enjoy this chart, and tonight, it led me to Wakey!Wakey!, a Brooklyn band that recently held down the #1 slot with their album, Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said the Last Time I Saw You …, as they played their first ever show in San Francisco.
The opening band was Doom Bird, a duo that assured us that they are usually a much bigger band. A conversation with the second band, Wave Array, alerted me to the fact that the bands were all playing semi-acoustically, without drums. Both bands took every opportunity to tell us this, explaining that these songs might not work with the smaller arrangement. First off, both bands had songs that worked in these smaller versions of themselves so they needn’t worry. But my advice to the bands (I love giving advice to bands) is never to whine to your audience about struggling with the arrangements during a stripped down show. Just play the tunes confidently and no one will be the wiser. Wave Array especially thrived in this environment, as the interplay between guitar and drums as crystal clear, and not muddied by any sort of over-amplification.
So the only thing I really know from the bio of Wakey!Wakey! is that the lead singer, songwriter and piano player of the band is Michael Grubbs, who plays a character named Grubbs on the television show One Tree Hill. When I told this to my friends who enjoy television, they said “oh that was a bad show,” usually while furrowing their brow. I have bad news for these friends of mine; the show is still on the air. Whether the show should have outlived Firefly or Arrested Development isn’t at issue, though, but what is at issue is the night job of Mr. Grubbs. I think he might be safe quitting his day job.
For this show, we had two-fifths of the full band, Michael on piano and vocals, and Caitlin Moe on violin. Wakey!Wakey!’s songs pass through familiar territory, pop songs meant for a mean piano player with straightforward lyrics, sung with heartfelt emotion. The fact that there’s no lyrical surprises is about the only criticism I can make of the band, and even that attitude of mine was questioned when a Peachy’s Puffs girl that had wandered into Hotel Utah sat down to listen to a few of his songs and was moved to tears. The shouts for favorite songs (especially “Light Outside”) and the singing along proved that there was real feeling to the words if you were attuned to it. When my notes say things like “pretty, catchy, beautiful, fun” when talking about the music, it’s a good thing.
Also on display was witty banter on par with some of the all-time greats. We kept being told about how certain songs are going to be reworked for their upcoming arena shows, and how they use the whole band when the play Madison Square Garden. We got stories about Michael’s first time in San Francisco, and he made points with the crowd for being a lover of Fernet Branca. But the real memorable moments were just after he finished a solo cover of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” He sat back down at his piano, started playing and sang just the refrain from the Montell Jordan classic, “This Is How We Do It.” This led to many in the audience working hard to try to get him to play it. and it became the night’s recurring joke. I promise you, beyond the shadow of doubt, that Wakey!Wakey! will be playing it on their next visit to San Francisco. Anything else would be a let down.
This San Francisco date is part of a brief six-city tour of some new markets to the band, and they were playing for long-time fans, some friends, and even their own booking agent. As a showcase of talents, this was terrific. The Heatseekers chart isn’t going to hold Wakey!Wakey! for long, and One Tree Hill can’t last forever, so next time the band’s in town, come sing some Montell Jordan with me.