Washington’s snow emergency may have been lifted Wednesday night, but the city was still not back to normal. Buses were delayed, parking was sparse, and every intersection presented a new challenge made of snow, sludge and ice. But after being snowbound for a few days, none of that could keep a sold-out crowd away from U Street Music Hall to see Brooklyn three-piece Wet.
As the last members of the audience made their way into the subterranean venue, man-made fog crept up the stairs. Perhaps it acclimated them to what they were about to see — or not see — as the band would go on to perform in a thick haze of smoke punctuated by flickering lights. Actually seeing the band would prove to be difficult, but the aesthetic suits its music.
Wet makes woozy alt-pop, like a stripped-down Purity Ring or a grooveless the XX, combining vocalist Kelly Zutrau’s breathy melodies with hints of guitar, swells of synthesizer and click-track drums. The band’s music is gentle and mostly mid-tempo, seemingly made for the make-outs and break-ups of the teens and college kids who dominated the crowd.
On Wednesday, though, the sound felt more like background music for conversations, of which there were plenty, thanks to a talkative crowd. It seems that U Street Music Hall has replaced the Rock and Roll Hotel as the venue where Washington’s youths go to talk over buzz bands.
Wet is certainly a buzz band: It has built up hype thanks to its breakthrough — and arguably best — single, “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl,” and a self-titled EP, feeding the digital content machine for almost two years with remixes of each successive single. The group has sold out venues across the country, even though Columbia Records won’t release its debut album, “Don’t You,” until Friday.
But the buzz band cycle does new acts no favors; bands like Wet are pushed out of the nest before they can fly. Too many of Wet’s songs fall into mid-tempo monotony, and although Zutrau’s voice is distinct and rich at a lower register, her higher notes are barely there. Their performance was competent but unexciting, and by not engaging the crowd between songs, they gave the audience members an opening to talk, an opportunity they happily took.
After playing opener “It’s All in Vain,” Zutrau told the crowd that a piece of the band’s equipment was running out of juice, and she asked for a pair of AA batteries. Eventually they decided to soldier on without the batteries, and she told the crowd, “We’re gonna take a risk. It’ll be exciting.” If Wet takes more risks, maybe it will be.
Kelly is a freelance writer.