Wallows brings indie rock perfection to San Francisco
Wallows deserves the hype. With an effortless superstar aura, the band’s performance on Thursday night at Warfield in San Francisco would have had the same impact whether played in a garage or Madison Square Garden: the venue shrunk to only accommodate you and the group. Led by the charismatic Dylan Minette and the charming Breaden LeMasters on vocals and guitar, with drummer Cole Preston rounding out the three core band members, Wallows immediately captivated audiences with an intimate, rehearsal-like vibe. . Yet despite their unassuming personalities, the band’s skill and passion for their music was evident, with crystal-clear live vocals and energetic instrumentals. The members were in sync and at ease, confident in their growing popularity with a clear identity and musical voice.
Although the six members of the group took the stage unceremoniously in T-shirts and cargo pants, the reaction from the crowd was explosive. The audience’s energy remained high throughout the concert, and for good reason. Almost all of the songs were fan favorites, and Wallows gave each a worthy performance. In addition to songs from their new album “Tell Me That It’s Over”, the band played hits from their previous album “Nothing Happens” (2019) and EPs “Remote” (2021) and “Spring” (2018), as well as their single “Pleaser” (2017). Although the music is largely faithful to the recordings (especially the vocals, to an extremely impressive degree), slight changes in the arrangements made things special. The versatile group performed with the instruments for each song. Along with guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and synth, the band also released a trumpet for a few songs, performed by Danny Ferenbach. Minnette held a guitar, a tambourine and a harmonica.
The band members’ individual skills as performers were clear and they balanced each other perfectly. As lead singer, Minnette, also known for her role in Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” did not disappoint. Dressed in his signature sweater vest, he exuded a natural stage presence, confidently stepping onto the stage and punctuating the beat, his spikes and nods eliciting screams from the adoring audience. While the slower songs were accompanied by an emotional Minnette grabbing the microphone, the faster songs had him dancing and delivering guitar solos.
As the outgoing Minnette radiated her energy into the crowd, a more low-key LeMasters was able to engage with fans one-on-one. LeMasters shouted on the balcony, wished fans a happy birthday, and received gifts including a bouquet of flowers and a homemade Shrek hat, which he wore for the rest of filming. Alongside Minnette’s larger-than-life personality, LeMasters has also had his moments in the spotlight, with his guitar solos and smooth vocals taking center stage. The band was so comfortable playing together that the performance could have been a jam session of a band of high school best friends (which, given Wallows’ teenage background, sort of was). The band’s bond was evident in his performance; each member’s instruments and voice blended easily into a resonant, joyful sound.
The relaxed tone of the show was underscored by set choices. A bare stage with only a few mic stands and scattered white streetlights added to the feeling of being in an intimate and personal space with the band. The lights (including color changing lamps) glowed warmly, unobtrusive but a perfect complement to the music. A credit to the technicians, the onstage lighting seemed almost alive, with pulsing purple light serving as the heartbeat of a ballad and bright red accompanying the beating heart of a rock song.
The band clearly know and love their audience and gave them a great show as a result. Several songs featured well-known vocals, including “Are You Bored Yet?”, during which Minnette enticed a delighted crowd to sing Clairo’s verse. Although Clairo was absent, the concert had a surprise guest. Towards the end of the set, Lydia Night, singer of pop-punk band The Regrettes, ran onto the stage to wild cheers. Night joined Minnette on the soulful “Permanent Price,” and her brooding backing vocals rounded out the song nicely.
In an otherwise flawless set, Wallows’ only visible slip-up occurred during the up-tempo “Marvelous,” sung by a tambourine-playing Minnette. After mixing up some of the lyrics during the song’s quick intro, Minnette quickly called to restart the track, telling the audience that he deserved the band to perform the song properly. On the contrary, the crowd was more excited the second time around; they were honored that Minnette would do it again just so they could sing with the right lyrics. The performance that followed was a highlight in the set.
The band’s closeness to their fans was also evident during the band’s encore. After the band played their last song (and Minnette threw her guitar pick into the audience), the crowd quickly began singing “one last song!” After letting us wait a minute, the band returned, lamps pulsating green light to the infectious rhythm of “Hard to Believe.” Minnette asked a fan to pick the next song, and after a few moments of setting up, the band performed an unexpected performance of “Ice Cold Pool.” The crowd-favorite “Remember When” completed the encore – the true “one last song”, as Minnette joked.
Spill tab, also known as Claire Chicha, was well chosen as the opener. Her performance — a mix of laid-back aesthetics, relatable lyrics, and dance-worthy instrumentation — was a perfect match for Wallows’ energy. The vocalist was joined by bassist Caleb Buchanan with a minimalist setup of a laptop and a few mic stands. As all grand openings do, the spill tabs had the crowd buzzing even though most viewers weren’t familiar with his music. She also dove into a few acoustic covers, including Usher, Kelly Clarkson and Moses Sumney, inviting the crowd to sing along with her. The highlight, however, was his original songs “Velcro” and “Grade A”, whose higher tempos amped up the crowd for the main act and encouraged at least a few of us to listen carefully to his discography. .
The Warfield, a beautiful ornate place decorated with wood paneling and rich, deep reds, was mostly occupied by high schoolers wearing bright patterns, tote bags, wide-leg jeans and chunky black platforms. At my first gig in over two years, I was thrilled to see that the tradition of wearing your coolest outfit to a gig is still going strong (albeit with a few more masks).
The band and venue’s commitment to the fans was clear throughout the night. Water bottles were distributed, paths to the pit remained clear and paramedics actively monitored the crowd. Following their example, the audience was full of energy but respectful; the hall was comfortably full, but members of the crowd were giving themselves enough room to breathe. Midway through Wallows’ set, Minette took a few minutes to ask a crowded section to back off and offered more water. “Anything you need,” he said. “We want you to be comfortable.”
Fame looks good on Wallows. I have no doubt that their stardom will continue to rise in the years to come. Their talent speaks for itself; no pretense necessary. A must-see live show, the Tell Me That It’s Over tour is definitely the perfect time to surprise this band in the midst of their rise to indie rock greatness.
Editor’s note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, reflections and criticisms.