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Anyone who knows me knows of my obsession with Wheatus. If you’ve had the misfortune of being in my circle of friends over the past ten years you’ve undoubtedly heard my incessant promotion of the band, pushing their new material and trying to round up as many of you as I can to go see one of their lives shows which I believed were one of the greatest live shows you’d ever witness.
That’s how I used to feel.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have a fondness for the music and the band will always be number one in my eyes, but something happened on this last tour, a sort of realisation, or perhaps an epiphany. Something that it seems most of my friends had already seen but I was too blinded by the stage lights to notice before.
In 2010 Wheatus toured the UK and earlier that same year I had been fortunate enough to have sat down with them in New York, visit the studio and enjoy Wheatus as people. Then the tour came around and I enjoyed the shows and the music and the atmosphere as much as I always had. I wrote a review praising the value of friendship that I had made over the last ten years with the band and with the brilliant fans I had met along the way. But on that tour there was also a bitterness residing inside me that a few people know about.
This feeling grew and when the band announced a 2011 tour I was a little hesitant. I felt obliged to go see them, but for one reason or another I missed them and the year passed me by without having had my fix.
Then 2012 came around and another tour, despite Brendan telling me in 2010 that the cost of touring was getting so steep that the 2010 tour would be their last, here they are again. This time, I was determined to go see them and with them playing three shows all within the local vicinity to my home, I thought this would be a great chance for a catch up.
Perhaps I’m too old, perhaps I’m too cynical, but after the first show in Birmingham I was exhausted. With three support acts, Wheatus didn’t get on stage until 10pm! This was already an hour past my usual bedtime and I’d been walking around the city all day. (Yes, I’m old.)
The support acts came in the form of Cornmo, Math The Band and MC Lars all of whom played around half hour sets. Cornmo opened us up and to look at him you’d never expect the vocals to come out of his throat, absolutely astonishing and a real treat. Rather Meatloaf meets Bruce Dickinson-esq, a great way to open the show.
Following were Math The Band. I can’t fault their energy. On stage they were electric and so hyper, like a child after downing three bottles of Coca-Cola. Perhaps it was the sound or the venue acoustics but the music was appalling, reverberating off the walls and everything sounding the same. I tweeted that Math The Band would rip your face off, I meant it. The energy was that immense and the lead guitarist with his ADD of always having to keep his guitar moving, it really did make your head feel like it was going to explode.
Then we had MC Lars, already quite a big talent in the UK and he had his own fan base in the crowd. In fact, the crowd was probably more there for him than the headline act seeing as nearly all of them dispersed after he left the stage. Nothing wrong with Lars, great set, great energy, great fun and such a lovely guy.
Finally, with my legs throbbing with pain it was time for Wheatus to take the stage. The same as usual, taking crowd requests with no regard to set lists. I used to think this was great, but now I think it lacks something which I’ll explore later. It was a good show, the sound was still a little off that I put to Math The Band for probably throwing everything out of whack. The tunes were mostly the same as we’ve heard before but playing Hometown, Texas and Lightning to vary it up.
As the set drew on I physically couldn’t stand anymore and despite Brendan saying he was going to play The Story of the Eggs which I wanted to stay for, the venue had a curfew and so it was straight into Dirtbag instead and a swift exit for my tired body.
When I awoke the next morning I was drained. I couldn’t move, I was in agony. I had slept in far later than I usually do but was so physically exhausted, my entire day was a blur and by the time it came to going to see the band again that night in Cheltenham I couldn’t do it. I was in no fit state to drive let alone stand around for another three hours plus. It was to bed with me.
As I lay there I began to wonder if I was too old for this. I’d been rocking out to this band for the last ten years and I’d never felt like this before. To be fair mind you, I don’t think I’d ever seen them take the stage so late before either, which I fear was a contributing factor to my disappointment this tour.
On Wednesday I headed back to my hometown of Bedfordshire and it was off to a show in what can only be described as a sweat-lodge. Esquires of Bedford, I’ve managed to keep away from this place for so long now, I’ve not even been to the town of Bedford for several years despite growing up here, for the very reason it is a hive of scum and villainy.
Before the show I had decided that I was going to have fun tonight. This was the last time I would see the band on this tour and I wanted to dust off the sleep from Monday and Tuesday and get back to the old Neil who could rock out until the break of dawn (Note: There was never a Neil that could do that.)
I ventured into the sea of sweaty bodies to get up close and personal with the band when they took the stage. I stayed there as MC Lars completed his set and I expected the crowd to thin out after he’d finish but unlike Birmingham, the Bedford crowd looked like they were here for a nostalgic trip and more bodies crammed in around me.
During the first song, drunken teenagers went insane with bouncing and jeering and so I slide my way to the back of the room. I felt disgusting, did I use to be one of those kids? I watched from afar as they bounced, drank and yelled, despite the much better sound quality it rather spoiled the evening. I had come to hear the band sing, not smelly teens.
It was another late stage time but I didn’t want to think about time, I had this week off as holiday for this very reason so forget how late it is and enjoy the show. But I couldn’t enjoy it. There was something biting at me as I watched the entire first album (with the obvious exception) get played with a couple of standard HOYLO tracks thrown in for good measure. This irked me.
Again, as Teenage Dirtbag played I left the venue, feeling glum and disheartened. This is not how I used to feel after a Wheatus gig, what had changed?
I’ve had some time to digest the shows and mull upon my thoughts, perhaps too long. I felt that there was a lack of creativity on display this tour. I’d heard all these songs before, countless times, but each time I’d heard them live they seemed to be played like they were brand new tracks. I’ll never forget hearing the 2001 Space Odyssey jam from Truffles, I got goosebumps, but that was absent from this set.
Is this the band’s fault for letting the crowd dictate what they hear or the crowd for not knowing any of the band’s new music? Honestly, I feel it is a little of both. I’ve heard it rumoured that bands don’t like to play their biggest hit early in the show for fear the crowd will leave and also that they are scared to play too much “new” material for fear of alienating fans of their original record.
With Wheatus their new music is vastly different from the original stuff so I can understand the hesitation in playing one track of new material when you could play three of the old but in this economy the focus has to be on making money and you’re never going to get people buying your new material unless they hear it and hear it played with as much passion and pride that went into making it. Don’t let the crowd dictate every single song to the point where you’ve just played the entire first album TEN YEARS LATER.
Things just weren’t the same for me on this tour. Perhaps it was because I missed the year before, perhaps it was because I’m getting older? But there was something that never quite sat right with me. Have I turned into Roger Murtaugh? Was the stage time just that little bit too late and mixed with three support acts just a little overkill? Did I really enjoy myself?
I hate to feel this way. Wheatus have been such a huge part of my life and they are all such incredible people to know.
If this is the last tour to hit the UK shores it’s not going to be a pleasant way to have said goodbye, at least for me. I shall hope that they come back and if they do, they bring with them an idea, something new that will freshen up their act and revive my love. I need a proper goodbye, not a so-long. The music will be with me forever and the band always in my heart, but perhaps it’s time to hang up my touring boots and become the Fairweather Friend?