Wes Dando
Thurs May 24, Catwalk.

When I told Peter Sanderson, bass player for Seattle's Wes Dando, that his band had been randomly selected as the subject of our new column, he raised his skinny arm in unbridled excitement and shouted, "Yeeeahh!" as though I had just offered him a record deal. "I had fun tonight," he said. "But it's hard to get any energy going with no one here. We try to remember what it was like the first couple times we played--how excited we were to be up there--and that helps."

Being the opening band on a Wednesday or Thursday night in a hometown club can be both fun and soul-destroying. You're almost guaranteed a small audience and no media coverage. And musicians who hope for bigger shows and decent financial compensation for their craft must be willing to play their guts out to lots of scant, random audiences before even the most meager bone is thrown at them.

So we've decided to throw our own little bone, in the form of this new Stranger column, One-Night Stand. Each week (on Wednesday or Thursday, writer's pick) we're going to draw the name of a club from a hat and go watch the opening act--be it genius, horseshit, or anything between. It can be a band, a DJ, or a laptop-polka prodigy, whatever--but it has to be local. We'll stay for the entire set, and then write a brief, heartfelt review.

We're going to do this in the hopes that a few local people will benefit from some of their first media exposure, and that, occasionally, fate will prove serendipitous enough that it affords us a new Stranger "favorite" or two (for which we're so often accused of having). Fun, yes?

For this, our first week, I drew the Catwalk--a basement club in Pioneer Square--out of the hat. There were 17 people in the crowd (four of whom wore black NHS-style hipster glasses) to see Wes Dando get the night started with a bright set of pop songs. The band, usually a three-piece, played tonight with second guitarist Jason Ingersoll, who was once a member but now only joins his friends on occasion. Ingersoll did a fine job playing smart, simple riffs, and appeared to be enjoying himself while doing so.

The band's easy sound immediately called to mind both Death Cab for Cutie and Built to Spill, replete with bright choruses and sugary hooks. This is indie rock, though it's a humbler version of the genre than I am accustomed to hearing. Part of the band's charm onstage is the fact that its members are shy, polite even, but I found myself wanting this very talented band to get angry or blissed out, and give itself license to unleash a little more than it did.

Singer/guitarist Erick Newbill did seem sort of pouty during some of the songs--he even intimated cockiness at times, but always fell just short of truly releasing the old inner animal. His voice is pretty, nasal, and always on-key, and his lyrics seem thoughtful--introspective and freely romantic. During the band's brightest moment, an emo-infused bit of aggression toward the end of the set, Newbill began to shout something about wanting to burn bridges, and I knew the band was on to something. It gave the show a dynamic, which is what one wants more from in Wes Dando. Newbill doesn't scream. His is a singing voice, so Newbill "wailed" this bit, a direct shaky note at the very top of his range that struck a fine chord, and filled the Catwalk with his talented presence. It was the punch I believe the entire audience had been waiting for, and perhaps it was at this point that Wes Dando had really warmed up.

I say, fuck indie rock and its polite, crap aesthetics. People need to get more naked onstage. If Wes Dando had been vulnerable enough to amp things up a tiny bit, the show would have been wildly entertaining, as opposed to impressive and pleasant, two boring compliments to bestow on an unassuming group of musicians who, frankly, owe it to themselves to buck up and play god.

I found myself believing in this band and wanting it to have a larger, more receptive audience. But how does one know he is god when he's beating out chords to 17 people, four of whom look cooler than him, and all of whom stare blankly and applaud politely between songs? Which comes first, Wes Dando, the audience, or the rock star?