Music

Review: Welles at Schubas is a Classic Rock Fan’s Wet Dream

“I rode in on a river of codeine” howled singer Jehsea Welles to a modest crowd at Schubas on Wednesday night; gripping his guitar like a life-preserver, peering through a tangle of long blonde hair, wearing the uniform of a 90’s grunge teen, the young rocker delivered the metal-tinged drug anthem with the sort of possessed energy of yesteryear’s hard rock bands. The sound that manifested was immediately gripping– comforting in a familiar sense, but shocking in a deliciously dirty way– looking around the room it was clear, we were all tuned into the same wavelength.
Welles (that’s the band’s name) call Arkansas home; there’s a southern rock sound permeating through some of the numbers on Red Trees and White Trashes, the band’s debut LP released last year, but that’s not all. It’s a satisfying grab of influences that feels pure and inventive, effortlessly gliding from classic, prog, and grunge rock influences, to soaring, melodic indie hooks and cutting singer-songwriter observations, and folding back into an immersive, undeniably awesome sound. Half the fun of listening to these guys is tracing the influences they wear on their sleeves– I swear I heard a Beatles riff from some buried White Album tune, a haunting Radiohead homage, and maybe, just maybe, a Kansas lick layered on these explosive numbers.
With a voice that’s almost Billy Corgan, but even more like Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms, frontman Jehsea Welles is an earnest, raw presence onstage. In between numbers, he loosely bantered, but as soon as the band was ready again he clicked into a ferocious focus, a magnetism that dropped the audience right back into the music. Introducing a number called “Seventeen,” Jehsea said “This is a song about being Seventeen.” What followed was a heartbreaking portrayal of teenage angst– there’s alienation in the music and poignancy in the poetry, and it seems the band knows that these compositions speak for themselves.
And probably because of this sincerity, the unapologetic rock-and-roll-ness of it all, it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off these guys when they’re onstage. And even in his brevity, frontman Jehsea has a wicked sense of humor. Some examples:
“I’ve recently gotten into crystals. They could be just see-through rocks, or fucking magic.”
“I used to have a dirt bike. Then my dad washed it.”
“I want to buy a donut. And a donut hole. And re-unite them. I’ll be the first to eat a donut… whole.”
Each of these delivered through a Cheshire grin, before launching into the next song. And the band, throughout the evening, was tight, sounding massive and immediate, showcasing intense skill and a reverence for the history of the genre. More than once did the crowd erupt into applause after a particularly shredded solo.
I’ve been listening to Welles in the days following the concert, and I’m even more convinced that these guys are the real deal. The excellent “Rock N Roll” swaggers with a T Rex coolness, “Hold Me Like I’m Leaving” is better than any stadium rocker you’ve heard in years, and the aforementioned “Seventeen” demands several re-listens and is instantly quotable. But there’s something about Welles live that I can’t get out of my head; I really feel like I witnessed the second coming of something that was long-lost.
At one point in the evening, frontman Jehsea said “Review it on your blog. I’ll find it.” If you’re reading this, Mr. Welles, just know: You’ve got a new fan. Keep rockin.

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