Live Shots: WATERS is stormier than expected at Brick & Mortar

Pub date February 5, 2014

Live shows are an opportunity for musicians and music lovers to share an experience together. After all, you’re standing in the same room. Brick & Mortar Music Hall is a treasure trove for musicians. The small space offers an intimate setting that gives musicians the chance to embrace their audience.

I stood five feet away from WATERS’ lead singer and frontman Van Pierszalowski Monday night and not once did I feel embraced.

Skip the foreplay. WATERS jumped right into a distinctly scruffier and rowdier sound, playing brand-new music from its upcoming album set to be released in April. When two beardy, flannel-sporting men in the audience started running into each other within the first minute of WATERS’ set, I was afraid that this wasn’t my scene. But the two human pinballs quickly stopped before the end of the first song, after fellow audience members ignored the unwelcome cavorting.

“Thank you everybody. The name is WATERS and we’re from San Francisco,” Van said apathetically. After the dissolution of indie rock-folk band Port O’Brien, Van created WATERS. But similarities between the two start and end with the vague nautical allusion. Where Port O’Brien sailed toward hazy folk, WATERS capsized into rowdy rock.

The first half of the rambunctious set consisted of unheard songs off the band’s noisy sophomore LP while the second half was dedicated to the slightly less loud songs from Out In The Light, the band’s debut album; all of it was heavy guitar riffs and booming drums. A somewhat out-of-place female keyboardist played quietly in a dark corner, offering sweet harmonies that added a much-needed contrast to the harshness in Van’s voice.

Bangs calculatingly side-swept over his right eye, Van lightly rocked onto his toes when he sang. It was in those moments that I felt the disconnect melt away. But rather than building on that passion, Van would often sever the mood by rocking out alone on stage— creating an awkward feeling of detachment between the band and the crowd. Seemingly unaware of his relatively mellow audience, Van built up on boisterous vocals and turbulent beats as girls wearing black lipstick and acid-wash jeans swayed in the front row and cute boys with beards and suede jackets bobbed their heads up and down.

“I’m in love with every single one of you people,” Van admitted mid-set. The false grab at intimacy made me feel like a high school girl cornered at her locker by a boy professing his unrequited love. The singer asked if anyone would be coming to the next shows during his month-long Brick & Mortar residency. A few hands flew up, several pathetic howls echoed in the room. He asked again (“Just put your hands up to make me feel better.”) Several additional hands shot into the air.
The best part of the WATERS set was the last song, not only because it indicated the end of a generally lackluster show, but also because the acoustic version of “Mickey Mantle” was Van’s first demonstration of genuine emotion. The final song on Out In The Light is a soft, acoustic guitar-driven tune.

Van attempted to quiet the audience and urged us to huddle close to the stage so that he could play without amplification. Welcome to the Van Pierszalowski Show. The other band members sunk into the background as Van balanced on the edge of the stage.

Imploring the audience to shout rather than sing the chorus with him, Van commandeered the audience into enjoying the final song. The lovely female keyboardist chimed in at the chorus and the bassist occasionally strummed his unplugged instrument — two welcome breaks from the shouting. But even Van’s attempt at connecting with the audience was interrupted by accidental microphone feedback mid-song.

I promise I wasn’t in a bad mood before heading to Brick & Mortar. On the contrary, I was rather excited about WATERS. As a fan of Port O’Brien, I had a lot of hope for the local band. The story of how WATERS was born, in particular, intrigued me: Post-breakup and in search of inspiration, Van traveled the world to decidedly graceful landscapes — the ethereal Alaskan coast, the frigid Norwegian fjords, and his seaside hometown in California. With a beautiful name like WATERS, it’s difficult to grasp how such a harsh sound comes out of solitary travels to exquisite coastal settings. Unlike the graceful flow of rushing rivers and crashing waves, WATERS remained detached throughout its first show at Brick & Mortar. Despite the attempt to connect with nature and music, Van just seemed out of place.