Welles and the “Silky” Sounds of Early 90s Grunge

You may remember me writing a few weeks ago about Dead Sara’s new EPTemporary Things Taking Up Space, and about how Jessie and I went to see them in DC last month.

Well, we also saw another band that night, upon whom I am very happy I stumbled.

Jessie picked me up at my house to go down to the Dead Sara show. We enjoy driving together. We used to spend hours cruising in one of ours cars, listening to music, and getting into deep, meaningful arguments about religion or death or how to address socioeconomic disparities in a post-industrial society.

Sounds like high school in the aughts, right? Well, it wasn’t. This was around 2014-15, in our mid-twenties, each of us scraping by on restaurant-worker wages and trying to figure out what the hell we were doing with our lives.

(Re-reading the above, I realize that 2014 was not that long ago, but man it feels  like an age. I’ve gotten married, bought a house, published a book, and had a child in that span. Jessie has moved more times than I can count, including to AND from Denver, and written most of a book of her own.)

Anyway, Jessie picked me up for the Dead Sara show, and we drove the 40+ minutes into DC at rush hour to get there. Fortunately, we found street parking on U pretty easily.

I had bought four tickets to the show way back in May, just assuming I could find people to go with. They were $15 each after fees. How could I pass that up?

Jessie and I went to a taqueria right near the club to partake in some libations while we waited for our two companions: a friend of mine from work, and another friend I’ve known since kindergarten who I don’t see nearly enough. I invited them both the night before.

It was an eclectic group of strangers/acquaintances, and I was the glue. I think everyone melded well.

We might have stayed a drink too long, because we got in at the end of the opener’s set. On stage, we found three guys not much younger than us, bearded and long-haired in ill-fitting t-shirts and ripped jeans. Their sound was loud in the way that a garage band’s loudness occupies the entire space, simply because there’s not enough room for the sound to travel.

That could have been in part due to the tiny space that is the Black Cat club. But I think it’s also just the sound that Welles goes for and hits perfectly.

We caught the final song-and-a-half of their set, each of us mouthing comments about how cool their sound was. Then, they left the stage, and Dead Sara came on.

Dead Sara was awesome, as they have been in each of the three shows I’ve seen them. It’s mind-boggling that a band with as diverse and resonating a sound as them still plays tiny clubs along the dirtier happy-hour strips of major cities. They deserve to play arenas, but I hope I can see them in little clubs just a few dozen more times.

After the show, I promptly went to Welles’s table. I wanted to support a small band I’d never heard of. So I picked up their debut LP, White Trees and Red Trashes.

That was a fantastic decision.

Their dirty grunge rock is a throwback to a musical era that I experienced vicariously through my older sister, who wore so many men’s clothes as a teenager that she filled my closet with hand-me-down outfits for years.

I grew up with post-grunge heavyweights like Foo Fighters and Soundgarden. The heyday of pre-Nevermind grunge was something I would learn about much later.

Welles makes me feel like I’m a part of that era, experiencing it in the moment with a vocalist/song-writer/musical visionary whose experiences I can relate to.

Jesse Wells is 23 and has already put out multiple albums. Welles (the band) is his fourth musical project, and I bet they will be playing the festival scene soon. Although, like Dead Sara, I hope they stick to clubs for as long as they can.

This album feels like the perfect driving music for Jessie and me. It’s raw, a little off-center, and has the swagger to stay there. It’s good music to talk to or talk about, and we already know it’s good to see live.

Somehow Welles has made me nostalgic twice over. Once for an era that I did not live through, and again for a period of my life that is too near to be nostalgic, but different enough to feel distant.

I’ve already played this album for my son. For a six-week-old, that means playing it in his vicinity while he’s not sleeping and not screaming. He’s heard Dead Sara, the post-grunge titans-to-be, Chris Cornell, the late probably-greatest-songwriter-of-the-last-thirty-years, Andrea Bocelli (my wife’s favorite singer), and many others.

I have no idea what kind of music he’ll like, but I hope I can give him some sense of nostalgia when he hears the music he grows up with. Maybe he’ll experience Welles the way I experienced grunge: a half-generation late, but formative all the same.

Steve D

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