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Monday, February 15, 2016

Live Review: Wet Shows Us Why It Sucks to Be in Love on Valentine’s Day

Posted By on Mon, Feb 15, 2016 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge Singer Kelly Zutrau - COLLIN BRENNAN
  • Collin Brennan
  • Singer Kelly Zutrau

Kelsey Lu

February 14, 2016

The Independent

Some vocalists spend years learning how to sing as if nobody’s listening to them, tearing down that wall of self-consciousness, brick by brick, until they finally glimpse the other side. Kelly Zutrau is not one of those.

As the lead singer of Wet, the minimalist R&B group that released their debut album, Don’t You, at the end of January, she sings as if she’s standing in the corner of a huge and desolate room that stretches on for miles without another soul in sight. This is true even when she’s standing in front of a sold-out crowd at The Independent, cast in a solitary spotlight, while dozens of happy couples squeeze each others’ hands and look on approvingly.

Wet is a strange band to see on Valentine’s Day. Sure, slow jams like “Deadwater” and “It’s All In Vain” are groovy enough to get the blood pumping — and guitarist Marty Sulkow sounds like he could make a decent living writing soundtracks for soft-core porno films — but the band’s entire ethos is heartbreak. (It’s literally all Zutrau sings about, as if she’s permanently suspended in the purgatory between when a relationship sours and when it finally, mercifully ends.) So there was a fair amount of cognitive dissonance on Sunday night, as lovers and soon-to-be lovers (and soon-to-be-NOT lovers) watched Zutrau spill her heart out about how much it sucks to be in love.

Wet does not have a very deep discography — one four-song EP and the aforementioned full-length, to be exact — which means that you’re liable to hear pretty much every one of their songs at a given show. This is a good thing for completists, but it also highlights the limitations of a band that too often gets stuck on the same record groove. If it weren’t for Sulkow’s creative guitar work and the addition of a live drummer to the band’s core trio, Zutrau might truly sound as if she were shouting her laments into an empty cave. In fact, that’s kind of what she sounded like at shows last summer when she and her band were still figuring out how to translate their slippery R&B sound to the stage.

Getting some live percussion in the mix certainly helps, as it imbues Wet’s sound with an organic quality that Zutrau’s ethereal voice does its best to negate. Don’t You is a fine album, but its mistakes have all been polished clean at the expense of its soul. The band reclaims some of that soul in a live setting, thanks to those pounding drums and some neat improvisation on the part of Sulkow.

Wet’s most stunning composition is the album closer “These Days,” which finds Zutrau stretching her vocal chords in front of a sparse piano melody. That piano wasn’t on stage during Sunday’s show, but Sulkow recreated its notes and overall effect to perfection on a clean electric guitar. There were several other moments during the show in which he translated sounds from the album onto his guitar, and each of these felt like a welcome reminder that Wet is a band comprised of actual human beings instead of beautiful robots programmed to play R&B.

Of course, it was Zutrau’s spot-on performance that gave Sulkow license to go a little further off the map, so give the credit where it’s due. The frontwoman would occasionally snap out of her self-induced reverie between songs to acknowledge the audience, and she never appeared less than gracious. She couldn’t quite meet the crowd’s enthusiasm, though. Wet is one of those bands that the blogosphere loves, which might explain how young the crowd bent on Sunday night. The kids standing up front were especially zippy, screaming playful obscenities as the band took the stage (“I’m so Wet right now! I’m dripping Wet!”) and cheering loudly for their favorite cuts. No song got a louder ovation and singalong than “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl,” and it makes sense: The single is one of two tracks to appear on both the EP and the LP.

The set closed with Zutrau walking off stage prematurely and the rest of the band engaging in a surprisingly rocking jam session. There was something fun and carefree about these 45 seconds that seemed to be missing from the rest of the night, even after you account for the couple feeling each other up in the corner by the coat check.

So did anybody in San Francisco get laid on account of Wet? Probably. They at least got treated to a slightly new side of a band that needs a couple new sides before it can truly enter the next stratosphere. If Wet can figure out how to channel a little more of that raw energy into their sound, they’ll be a band to watch for years to come. On Valentine’s Day 2016, they merely resembled so many other sad sacks across San Francisco: surrounded by friends but alone in their hearts.

Critic’s Notebook:

- Good merch game tonight. I nearly bought a baseball cap that says “Wet” across the front, but that’s like wearing a shirt that says “I’m Horny.”

- At one point, a woman standing next to me seemed thoroughly convinced that Zutrau was lip syncing her parts. I’m going to chalk that up as a win for the sound guys, who came through with an astoundingly crisp and balanced mix.

- Valentine’s Day should be the one night of the year when PDA is not openly shunned. Plenty of folks at this show took advantage of the holiday to shamelessly feel each other up in the middle of the crowd. Extra points go to the girls in the corner, who spent $15 a ticket just to find a dark corner to make out in.
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Collin Brennan


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