May 23, 2003

Try though you might, you just can't hate Wakefield

Today there are an amazing number of bands that seem more than willing to follow Blink 182 off into the midget-humping sunset. And why not? The current state of popular music provides nearly limitless profitability to catchy pop bands with cute members. Hell, the members of Blink play in other bands that rip off their own music, so they can get rich based on their own success. Arista Records' bet in the pop punk race is Maryland's Wakefield, whom I saw open for the All-American Rejects last Monday.

Wakefield is a four-piece band, comprising guitarist/singer J.D. Tennyson, guitarist/singer Ryan Escolopio, bassist/singer Mike Schoolden, and former drummer for wannabe-punks Good Charlotte Aaron Escolopio. The four are currently on tour in support of their first record (and, incidentally, their major label premier) American Made. Wakefield definitely rocks harder than most bands in its genre; a poppier version of the Deftones would be an apt description. The first single from American Made, "Say You Will" is indescribably catchy, with soaring three-part harmonies and enough "ooh-aahs" to kill you and the horse you rode in on. The rest of the album is more of the same--"wa-ee-oohs" and "yah-oh-aahs" and even the occasional "yeah!" just for tradition's sake. Do these guys even know they're ripping on '50s doo-wop?

When I arrived at the show, my first surprise came when I saw the audience. I knew it would be bad, but not this bad--I hope I never see the Metro filled with 14-year-old girls again. However, as my unobstructed view was insured, I prepared to enjoy some saccharine sweetness. I would be sadly disappointed. Wakefield took the stage, looking all rock-star debonair and launched into its first song. Here is the second surprise. These guys actually rock! Such a display of energy, even for a 45-minute opening set is almost without parallel in my concertgoing experience. They are also choreographed excellently. At periodic moments, they collect themselves to do jumping guitar tucks and then careen off in opposite directions in some type of velociraptor attack pattern. I was then awed once again during the second song, when Schoolden let out a vicious scream that would make any card-carrying Glassjaw fan turn a whiter shade of pale.

Of course, journalistic integrity intact, I had to find something to criticize, and find I did. Partway through the set, Wakefield played "Sold Out" from American Made, which, despite going by relatively unnoticed on the album, annoyed me greatly performed live, with its chorus "We're in it for the money/All the groupie honeys/We want your life so we sold out." Of course it's punk tongue in cheek, but I'm just sick of this stuff. I never really got the whole "selling out" thing in the first place, and now we've got this backlash to the backlash thing, and it's just wearing thin. Additionally, Ryan Escolopio adopts a bad faux-British accent. "People have been doing that shit for years!" you say. The problem is this--he isn't imitating the Clash here. It's more like imitating Billie Joe Armstrong (whose accent is already questionable) imitating the Clash. Wakefield also suffers from "we rock too hard" syndrome. They have that whole '80s thing where you can just see them saying to themselves, "Sweet Jesus! Just look how hard we're rocking." It just seems kind of unnatural sometimes. Just after the first song, lead singer Ryan Escolopio took a swig out of his water bottle and spit it into the air. It sure got a lot of Beatlesesque 14-year-old cheers, but it had the feel of something that's done night after night.

I'll have to admit, I went to see Wakefield with the firm intention of panning the show simply because of their association with commercial pop punk. Unfortunately, that's something I just can't do. Because they're actually pretty good. The band puts on a rock-hard show with energy that a lot of other bands could learn from. And the music, derivative as it may be, accomplishes all the goals set for it. It's really catchy (I've still got "Girls Rock Boys" stuck in my head), and it's fun to listen to. If there is any fault, it's that Wakefield is marketed to the wrong people. After the set, some Avril look-alike asked me who the band was that had just played. When I asked her if she liked the music, she replied "No, but the lead singer is really cute." That really sums it up. I've also got to give them mad props for playing a cover of Superdrag's "Who Sucked Out the Feeling," one of the greatest all-time jams. Maybe it's that I've just been seeing too many depressing shows recently--Bright Eyes twice in a row, and they were handing out razorblades at that shit--but I really enjoyed seeing Wakefield. What more can you ask for from a concert? All right, all right. Artistic integrity and all that jazz. But, hey, they admit they sold