Review - Wheatus live at O2 Islington, London 2017

If you’re between the ages of 15 and 55, you probably know Wheatus’ anthem ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ and likely, every word of it. Essentially only famous for the one song and with over 20 band member changes its release, I was curious to see whether the now 40-somethings can still entertain singing about their teenage shenanigans.

The current European tour sees the band playing an incredible 37 shows in less than two months and will finish up at the Isle of Wight Festival. Supporting this tour is singer-song writer Mike Doughty, former frontman of the Soul Coughing whose songs are a mix of croaky vocals, cello, guitar- and electronic riffs. On Friday, most of the Wheatus members formed Doughty’s supporting band. It was disappointing to see the meek response he received from the crowd, as he’s clearly a solid musician and delivered a very noteworthy gig.
The initially reserved audience was a blend of all those who sang along to ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ when it was released and a few teenagers. The younger teens likely dragged along to relive their parents’ “rebellious” youth.

Wheatus entered the stage as the lights dimmed and finally the crowd showed some form of life. Trademark spectacled vocalist and guitarist, Brendan B. Brown and the only member of the original line-up remaining, greeted London and asked the crowd for suggestions of songs they must play. This is a clever gimmick they are known for that creates an intimacy and encourages the audience to participate. "That Song I Wrote When You Dissed Me " kicked their set off.

The band was set up on stage in a half-circle formation, with bassist Matthew Milligan and Brown occasionally making an appearance at the centre of the stage, but speedily moving back into position as to not nip the tight unit’s limelight.

The venue gradually filled up and as the night progressed and the crowd started to actually enjoy themselves. The band’s famous cover of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’ triggered phones and arms to go in the air, hips to start swinging and a mass sing-a-long.
Brandan can still reach all his signature high notes and sounded more like a “Fourteen”-year-old shrieking out tunes about some mean girl called Josephine. He performed an impressive guitar solo whilst playing Truffle, and after getting in trouble with venue security for straddling the photo-pit by putting his foot on the crowd barrier, the lyrics “you think yer such a bad ass” seemed rather appropriate. At one point Brown asked whether they should play ‘Anyway’ and receiving an enthusiastic response yelled, “Thanks for knowing our weird songs!” Their new single ‘Tipsy’ was not as well received and was met with an awkward silence.

Backing vocals Joey Slater and Gabrielle Sterbenz delivered beautiful harmonies and although personally not a big fan of the concept of backing vocals in this format, works for the band. Brandon Ticer performed behind the keyboards and Leo Freire’s didn’t disappoint on drums. Midway through their set they brought the tempo down with an acoustic interlude with Milligan changing instruments to electric double bass that followed with "Randall" & "Pretty Girl"

The set was over two hours and a combination of old and new songs with most memorable being ‘BMX Bandits’, ‘Leroy’ and ‘Truffles’. The night ended on a high note as they played the elongated anticipated ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ which got the predicted sing-along response as it was pretty much the reason the entire crowd was there.

Not considering minimal sound issues, their performance was collaborative and tight, with youthful vigour and it was evident these are tested musicians who are still passionate about what they do. With five studio albums, it’s difficult to believe that they still are only known for a song on their self-titled debut album released 17 years ago. All-and-all a very enjoyable (nostalgic) evening for both the band and the fans.


All Images ©Marianne Brits-Strodl
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