I WAS THERE: The Wrens Make Us Wish We Were From New Jersey (For An Hour At Least)

"Get down, Kevin!"

[Photos/Text by Andrew Parks; slideshow available here]

“For those of you who are new to us,” Kevin Whelan–the Wrens‘ bassist/keyboardist/vocalist/residential madman–says to a sold-out Bell House crowd, “We’ve been a band for 20 years. We’ve never had any side projects…”

Enter a round of hooting and hollering. To which Whelan responds, “I’m glad you applaud insanity.”

Damn right we do, especially when it involves middle-aged dudes who are able to outperform all of the artists we’ve seen in the past year–artists that, for the most part, were born within 5-to-10 years of the Wrens itself. 

In case you haven’t heard the legend of Secaucus‘ most beloved could-have-been band, it goes a little something like this: label troubles derailed the Wrens’ career before it was given a chance, causing a seven-year gap between the band’s second album and the brutally-honest record that’s widely regarded as their masterpiece. (Please do yourself a favor and pick it up now if you’re remotely into what passes as ‘indie rock’ these days.)

All those years of struggling has made for some truly incredible music, but it’s also complicated matters as new fans finally catch wind of the Wrens’ spastic live shows and wholly satisfying back catalog. With families and day jobs filling the void for the past decade (drummer Jerry MacDonald, for one, lives and works in Philadelphia), the group’s basically unable to tour beyond stray appearances like last night’s Brooklyn show and a we’re-still-here run at South by Southwest this year. That’s why frontman Charles Bissell performs solo gigs much more often than Wrens ones, and why the same span of time will likely pass between The Meadowlands and Album No. 4.

The Wrens’ label, Absolutely Kosher, did tell us this, though: “We’re expecting a new album before 2010–so excited!” Considering the raw power of the new songs they played on Friday, we’re excited too. To be honest, self-titled went into the Wrens’ show with few preconceptions other than the likelihood of seeing a lot of Jersey fans in the House. What we certainly didn’t expect: the goosebumps brought out by a band who plays like every song might be their last. Or at least their last in a while, which is what Kevin Whelan kept reminding us throughout the night … when he wasn’t climbing atop amps, tossing his bass into the crowd, wielding a mic stand, screaming, or falling off his wobbly keyboard stool.

Here’s hoping we find a set list somewhere, because we’re officially in the 20-years-late bracket of Wrens followers now, and want to hear everything we heard last night on repeat for the rest of the weekend …