Wussy at the Red Line Tap

The great Cincinnati rock band Wussy has a new album out, Forever Sounds — an outstanding follow-up to its 2014 album Attica! — and the group returned last week to its usual Chicago venue, the Red Line Tape, for two shows. I was there on Saturday, March 12, and it was another loose and lively set by Wussy, with old and new songs — even including one song that’s newer than the new album (“In the Tall Weeds”). Watch for details of another Chicago concert by Wussy (apparently at a different venue) coming up in late June. And you can see video of Wussy’s KEXP performance this week here.

SET LIST: Little Paper Birds / She’s Killed Hundreds / Gone / Maglite / To the Lightning / Hello I’m a Ghost / Pizza King / Better Days / Teenage Wasteland / In the Tall Weeds / Pulverized / Sidewalk / Aliens in Our Midst (originally by The Twinkeyz) / Dropping Houses / Beautiful ENCORE: Majestic-12 / Ceremony / Rigor Mortis

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White Hills at the Red Line Tap

After the Joan Shelley-Doug Paisley show last Thursday, Nov. 5, at Szold Hall, I headed up to the Red Line Tap to catch a concert by the Thrill Jockey band White Hills (which was featured performing on screen in last year’s Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive). This band deserved a bigger audience than it got on this night, when just a handful of fans were watching, but that didn’t lessen the strength of the music. White Hills has included other musicians over the years, but for this show, it was down to its two core members, guitarist-vocalist Dave W. and bassist-vocalist Ego Sensation. They fleshed out their sound with keyboards and drum machines, stretching out their songs into experimental grooves.

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Wussy at Red Line Tap


The Cincinnati rock band Wussy is fairly obscure in the grand scheme of the music business, but people who know this group tend to love it. Wussy finally began getting some overdue attention in 2012 when one of rock’s best-known critics, Robert Christgau, wrote an essay calling Wussy “the best band in America.” The group got similar praise last month in the Los Angeles Review of Books from Charles Taylor, who observed: “If Wussy announce themselves at all, it’s not as stars or oracles but simply as five people who have hit on the perfect form in which to say whatever they have to say.”

The last time Wussy released an album, 2011’s Strawberry, barely anyone seemed to notice. Maybe that’s because Wussy’s records come out on Shake It, a tiny label run by a record store in Cincinnati. Now, the group has released yet another outstanding record, Attica!, but this one  actually managed to get reviews in Pitchfork and Spin.

The group made a welcome return to Chicago on Friday night, playing at the Red Line Tap in Edgewater — a somewhat obscure venue. (Other than opening for the Afghan Whigs, the last time Wussy played in Chicago was at the Bucktown Arts Fest in 2012.)  But while Wussy surely deserves to be playing in bigger rooms with bigger audiences, it’s a treat for those of us in the know to watch this wonderful outfit of Ohio musicians performing in a little bar like this.

Attica! is one of the year’s best albums, and it ranks alongside Wussy’s strongest previous records. Fittingly, the band started its set on Friday night with the first three songs on Attica! and proceeded to play a bunch of songs from the new record, as well as older favorites like “Pulverized,” “Muscle Cars,” “Maglite” and “Yellow Cotton Dress.”


A long pause came right after Wussy played the first song, “Teenage Wasteland,” when the part on singer Lisa Walker’s guitar that holds on the strap broke. The band’s other singer-songwriter-guitarist, Chuck Cleaver, tried to fix it, but they eventually gave up and she switched to a different guitar. This sort of lull can kill a concert’s momentum, but with Wussy, it felt more like a charming interlude. Walker was in a talkative mood, and after a while,  Cleaver cracked that Wussy should attempt something novel: playing two or three songs in a row.

Walker said someone had compared Wussy to a jazz band, explaining that the group never plays a song the same way twice, and she wasn’t sure whether to take that as a compliment. There is indeed something loose about the way Wussy plays its songs. It doesn’t go too far off-script from the studio versions, but the live versions still have some of the excitement of musicians discovering the joy of playing a great song they’ve just learned. And when it comes down to it, Wussy’s great because it has striking lyrics and damn good melodies. What more do you really need?

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