Wednesday deliver a uniquely hard-rocking live show

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Wednesday live

When I first heard Wednesday‘s “Chosen to Deserve” last year, I was immediately struck with a thought that hits me only in rare moments of epiphany: This is the best song I’ll hear this year.

At the very least I knew “Chosen to Deserve” was special, a brutally honest account of questionable choices, bored teenage self-destruction and regrettable hookups as presented to a partner, a strangely sweet warts-and-all love-me-as-I-am song backed by big, chunky rock riffs. It’s the kind of song that comes along maybe once or twice a year at most, something that in a pre-digital age would have been buried on side two of a mixtape from a friend or a partner. Maybe it would change your life, maybe it would just brighten your day, but in that moment, that song is all you care about. And for the record, we actually did name it Treble’s Song of the Year. (Called it.)

No song on Wednesday’s setlist during their performance at the Broadberry in Richmond, Virginia quite reached the level of celebration that erupted once the group kicked the song into gear—relatively early in a set to place a fan favorite (though not quite as dramatic as when I saw Pavement begin a set with “Cut Your Hair”). A lot came pretty close: the thunderous grunge of “Hot Rotten Grass Smell,” the electrocution tale of “Got Shocked,” the epic, noise-rock close of “Bull Believer.” It’s their most streamed song, not counting 2018’s one-minute-long “How Do You Let Love Into the Heart That Isn’t Split Wide Open” (for some reason?), and in spite Sirius radio’s heavy rotation of “Quarry” (another excellent song!).

There’s just something uniquely invigorating in that charge of major chords and pedal steel, an opening riff worthy of AC/DC but dressed in its Nashville best. It’s the kind of moment that people will wait through an hour-and-a-half set to hear, maybe shouting its title somewhere around 45 minutes in. It’s a song that merits anticipation, a climactic payoff after various twists and turns and a long period of build up. Songs like “Chosen to Deserve” are why we love going out to hear music live—Wednesday didn’t drastically change how they play it or offer an alternate take, as much as I love when that sort of thing happens. There’s just something about being in the presence of an incredible band, playing the hell out of a perfect song.

Wednesday are perhaps a new band in the Grammy Best New Artist sense of the term, but they’ve been around for more than half a decade, steadily building a fanbase and earning acclaim based on the strength of albums like 2021’s Twin Plagues. The release of 2023 album Rat Saw God, the third album by the North Carolina group that began as a solo project by Karly Hartzman, found Wednesday elevating to a higher level, both in terms of visibility and acclaim as well as in delivering their strongest set of songs to date. And as a result, they’ve been playing the biggest stages of their career, opening for for the likes of Jason Isbell and headlining sold out shows like this electrifying night at The Broadberry.

They’re not quite there yet—they will be—but one could easily imagine Wednesday playing a primetime slot at a major (non-jam-band) music festival. There aren’t that many actual, newer rock bands of late that can claim those boasting rights. Tame Impala is the most obvious name that comes to mind, and they’re neither spring chickens nor even really a rock band anymore. The rock bands with the biggest fonts on the Coachella and Bonnaroo posters this year are either legacy acts (Blur, Deftones, Red Hot Chili Peppers) or likewise raise the question of what your definition of “rock” is (Khruangbin). Big Thief and Alvvays are the two bands that have actually headlined a fest in recent memory, having topped the lineup of last year’s Pitchfork fest, along with The Smile (who benefit from decades of being two-fifths of Radiohead).

Here’s the thing, though: Wednesday rock harder than any indie success story in recent memory. I recognize that makes me sound like a fucking dinosaur, but hear me out: Wednesday aren’t simply a rock band, but one that actually orbits within the universe of what Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles refers to as “ultimate rock.” It’s apparent within the first 15 seconds or so of the first song on Rat Saw God, “Hot Rotten Grass Smell,” when the distortion kicks in and what initially seems like a low-key indie song turns into an instant ass-kicker—which was doubly so in an even louder live setting. Though Wednesday stylistically might share more in common with both Sonic Youth and Drive-By Truckers, you get the sense they’ve heard Metallica’s self-titled Black Album front to back more than once.

As songs like “Chosen to Deserve” show, however, they’re also a songwriting-first band, no matter how loud they get. Squint a little and you can imagine someone like Bruce Springsteen playing it, if in part because Hartzmann’s detailed narratives from Greensboro, North Carolina somewhat parallel The Boss’ own Asbury Park tales. Hartzman is a troubadour’s troubadour, she just happens to prefer to do so at maximum volume, and that combination is one we haven’t heard nearly enough.

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