“Good deal, good deal.” “Cool beans – cool, cool beans.” Quiet affirmations like these followed the pure-rock explosions set off by Welles at Mercury Lounge, breaking up their searing set in a way that had the crowd cracking grins. It sounded more like things you’d mumble peacefully while painting, not while you’re ripping up a small stage in a fit of fierce riffs. One of the best things about Jesse Wells – other than his savage guitar chops and transcendent vocals – is the fact that he doesn’t take himself seriously and just loves fuckin’ rockin’. That’s not some persona he puts on; that’s just Jesse, every time, all the time. He breathes and bleeds rock & roll, therefore his sound is dripping with all the best parts of it.
One surefire way to identify the coolest humans in your city is to stick a seductive rock show in the middle of a nasty, slushy mess, like the storm that hit New York City on Tuesday. The fans who tiptoed and slipped through the icy streets were well rewarded, because local singer-songwriter/bassist Kate Davis kicked off the night beautifully with her three-piece band. Performing songs from Trophy, the debut album her fans have been anticipating – which she promised is coming out in the next few months – Davis brought a jazzy edge to their clean sound. The band added an extra layer of energy beneath her cool vocals, but they stepped off the stage for “I Like Myself,” a showstopper that Davis performed solo. Her voice defied expectations as it danced and twisted around the words, “I kind of like myself ‘cause she likes me, and since I think the world of her and she of me, then I’m exactly who and where I want to be.”
The sight of Jesse’s black-marker-on-cardboard setlists – with unique drawings decorating all four copies – was enough to get your pulse racing before his 15-song set, because Welles’ NYC tour stop featured four brand new songs that don’t appear on his latest album, plus killer covers of The Cure and Dead Moon. Of course, it was also loaded with gems from Red Trees and White Trashes, his incredible debut (which we named one of the three most important albums released last year), kickstarting with the rush of rock & roll energy that is “Codeine.” Wavy hair airborne as he sang, Jesse’s fingers flew across the frets and his vocals sounded stronger than ever; resonant and rugged as always, really lighting each line on fire. When one of his solos was coming, you could sense that his fans were bracing for impact as he leaned into the licks and moved around to shred face-to-face with his bandmates.
The four delivered an electrifying set in the intimate space, but as hard as they rocked, Jesse mixed things up with funny one-liners delivered in his finest deadpan tone. “When I was a kid, I had a dirt bike until my dad washed it,” the Ozark, Arkansas native quipped between songs, with “Food stamps taste terrible!” fast to follow, triggering a big laugh in the Lounge. After Welles’ cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” surged straight into fiery new song “Paralyzed,” with beads of sweat forming on his face, Wells said, “Good deal, good deal. That was two in a row. You all made it,” as if he didn’t realize we’d gladly listen to as many as he could give us.
Welles Setlist – Mercury Lounge, NYC – Feb 12
“Hold Me Like I’m Leaving”
“Rock N Roll”
“Lovesong” (The Cure cover)
“Paralyzed” (new song)
“My Kind of Boy” (new song)
“Crystals” (new song)
“How Sweet It Is To Love”
“U Know It’s a Sin” (new song)
“Life Like Mine”
“Poor Born” (Dead Moon cover)
It was one of those badass rock shows in which every song somehow felt short and fleeting, as if time were sneaking by too far ahead of schedule; there was just no way to get enough, even with the powerful new songs that popped up in Welles’ set. “My Kind of Boy” is an instant hit with lyrics that really stick – “She might be your kind of girl, go ahead and take her for a ride, but I know deep down inside, she’s my kind of boy,” he sings on the sultry track. And just after the mind-blowing “Seventeen” and “Into Ashes” that came next, he had another new one ready to go, topped off with an intriguing introduction. “Alright, I’m gettin’ into crystals lately, and they might just be see-through rocks, I’m not sure. So I had to go and write a tune,” Jesse explained before “Crystals,” a memorable rager that makes one hungry for whatever he’s working on next. Before stepping off the small stage and meeting fans at the bar for drinks, the last thing he said was, “Thanks a lot for comin’ out y’all. You’re fuckin’ brilliant.” No, you are, Welles – truly.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Anthony Mulcahy