The Wrens

Club Congress, Thursday, Feb. 26

Who the hell knew there were so many Wrens fans in Tucson? About 175 bodies took in the band's show last week, and going by the number of them who called out the titles of songs they wanted to hear, most weren't there to see what all the buzz was about; they were die-hards.

Over the course of a 50-minute set, The Wrens certainly didn't disappoint.

Drawing largely from 1996's Secaucus and its long-awaited follow-up, last year's The Meadowlands, the band betrayed its debt to the slick guitar-pop of the '80s while updating it with plenty of unexpected arrangements that took in everything from jittery, Fugazi-esque structural changes and '90s indie rock guitar wobbles.

Though drummer Jerry MacDonnell was unable to make the Western leg of the tour, the band's booking agent flawlessly substituted, and all three other members--guitarists/singers Charles Bissell and Greg Whelan, and bassist/singer Kevin Whelan--couldn't have played a tighter show. Whelan, in particular, was especially exhuberant; with a short, spiky haircut and white jacket-shirt that wouldn't have looked any sillier if it had shoulder pads and epaulets, Whelan would have looked right at home in a low-budget music video on MTV circa 1983. Whether it was intended to be ironic was a question best left unanswered, but the sheer joy and energy of his performance more than compensated for his lack of fashion sense. It reminded me of Robert Pollard jumping and kicking during early Guided By Voices shows, thrilled to death that he was living out the rock-star fantasy--even if it took until middle-age to get there--instead of slaving away at his day job.

A highlight was The Meadowlands' "Happy," which began as a ballad but slowly built to a transcendent climax that left one wondering how so much sound can be generated by only four people.

Another standout element was The Wrens' gorgeous harmonies. On records, they're merely a singular element of the band's songs, but in a live setting, there were times they took over the room, taking glorious flight that was nearly overwhelming.