1…2…3…4…Bam! The sound of Wet Illustrated fills the room after Robbie Simon, drummer and vocalist, counts off the opening song at the Hemlock Tavern. Standing in the calm and expectant room seconds before the count, there was no way I could have prepared for the wall of sound that was about to hit me.
The San Francisco band plays garage punk rock with a healthy pop infusion. Catchy but not repetitive guitar riffs, genuine punk vocals and song structures that lead you on without letting you look back make up Wet Illustrated’s sound. Will Ivy on bass, and Tim Hellman and Chrys Nodal on guitars accompany Simon, as the quartet fills the space with 100% intensity from the get go.
When the music was playing, it was full on, as if staring at the sun. When it was not, the band joked with the audience and among themselves, allowing the room to catch its breath. Simon drove the groove and instilled a guttural connection between tempo and volume. During the song “Buried,” the tempo contracted and stretched organically, alternating between thick vocal textures and the contrasting instrumental sections. Interestingly, this effect does not come across in their 2011 full-length debut, 1x1x1. On the released recording, the song is loud throughout with plenty of changing textures but no tempo variations.
Onstage announcements like “we realize this isn’t very exciting, but this is a world f***ing premiere,” proved Wet Illustrated to be a genuine bunch that doesn’t bother with appearances or PR-related shoutouts. Despite not taking themselves too seriously, Wet Illustrated secured a licensing deal with True Panther Sounds for their debut album. True Panther also represents acclaimed San Francisco locals, Girls. For 2012, the band plans to release an EP through the Infinity Cat label, which listed #10 on Billboard’s “50 Best Indie Labels” last year.
My mind and ears had been floating on the sea of sound that Wet Illustrated provided, and when the set was done I had to take a couple minutes before I could be fully present. The band had played a strong and cohesive set that reminded me of the importance of seeing live music. Regardless of how clear a picture a recording can provide, all of the elements that make a musical act what it is cannot be translated to the recorded format. In order to be able to fully appreciate a musical work, one must see an artist’s live representation of it. Live, the music breathes and interacts with the room, the audience and the musicians, as it did during Wet Illustrated’s set.
Also on the evening’s bill were Swiftumz and Meercaz. San Francisco–based Swiftumz played nicely crafted lo-fi pop rock tunes at a time when the room was the most crowded. The quartet featured two guitars, bass, drums and vocals, and played a tight set that kept the audience on its feet. Guitarist Chris McVicker’s always calm vocals, however, did not match the intensity of the driving drum and bass combo at all times.
Oakland’s Meercaz touts a sound that leans toward a stripped-down and bluesy rock feel. With drums, bass and guitar, the trio has raw energy that spills off of the stage. Front man Muzz Delgado charged rapaciously with his guitar and vocals over the frame that the bass and drums provided. The highlight of the set, “Never Too Late To Learn,” displayed a self control lacking on other songs, as the guitar laid low during verses and roared right on through the choruses, providing a wider display of the textures available to the trio.
The night at the Hemlock Tavern, located on Polk Street, provided audiences with a healthy dose of underground rock music, despite it not seeming like the place for it. People from different walks of life mix on Polk Street mostly to drink and not necessarily to take in the latest cultural happenings. But as it turns out, if you walk past the Hemlock’s gigantic bar and through a door frame on the side, you will find yourself at a legitimate music venue. Inside, Swiftumz, Meercaz and Wet Illustrated let themselves loose and gave the audience intimate displays of original music.