Music review: Best Coast and Wavves at 9:30 Club

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 12:43 AM

The '90s are back, and along with flannel, environmentalism and 20-something ennui, the resurgence has brought some great self-deprecating rock songs.

Best Coast and Wavves are responsible for the best of them. The two young bands performed at the 9:30 Club on Monday night, singing about California boredom and slacker romance - the latter made all the more intriguing by the fact that Best Coast singer Bethany Cosentino and Wavves singer Nathan Williams are a couple.

And while the neo-grunge lovebirds have both toured doggedly (and separately) in support of their both-excellent 2010 albums, Monday's gig proved that neither act has quite figured out how to translate the heroic loserdom of their recordings to the stage.

Still, these losers have been wildly successful.

This tour was co-sponsored by MTV and Spin magazine. Monday's show was streamed live on NPR. Last year, the duo penned a Christmas song for Target, and Cosentino was commissioned to record a tune for Converse. And on Monday afternoon, Best Coast taped a performance on "Late Show With David Letterman," from which Cosentino tweeted backstage photos of her and fellow guest Justin Bieber. In the '90s, this would all be considered selling out. In 2011, the concept of selling out no longer exists.

But that didn't stop Monday night's gig from resurrecting the vibes of a good-old Clinton-era rock show. Couples made out to the squall of heavily distorted guitars. Parents chaperoned fresh-faced teens under watchful eyes. Plastic cups were chucked toward the stage, crowd surfers floated on a sea of helping hands and overzealous stage-divers took gnarly spills.

The music was almost exciting enough to warrant it.

During Best Coast's headlining set, Cosentino summoned some Chrissie Hynde-ish verve, bending her deadpan lyrics ever so slightly. And when you can inject a little soul into a line such as, "I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk," you're growing.

Many of Cosentino's songs clung to the same tempo, but she wisely broke up the set with new songs "Sunny Adventure" (fast) and "When You Wake Up" (slow) and a spartan cover of Loretta Lynn's "Fist City."

The opening set by Wavves was louder, rowdier, sloppier and more annoying. The trio took the stage to theme music from "The X-Files" and promptly kicked a dozen beach balls into the crowd while Williams donned two large chains made of fake gold. (Maybe Target doesn't pay what we think.)

Between the angsty punch of "King of the Beach" and the distorted slop of "To the Dregs," Williams bantered incessantly, presumably keeping the NPR employee in charge of muting profanities from the live stream very, very busy.

Where Best Coast was a little flat, Wavves was a lotta mess - with both acts relying a little too heavily on their cool, shoulder-shrugging charms.

But in the increasingly fickle world of contemporary indie rock, those charms may last only so long. Instead of cashing in on their undeniable talents through endorsement deals, it's time that both Cosentino and Williams summon a little desperation and start cashing in onstage.

"To take on the world would be something," Williams sang halfway though his set, beach balls bouncing across the crowd.

It really would.

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