When Wet played the Wonder Ballroom in 2018, fresh off the release of their second studio album Still Run, lead singer Kelly Zutrau asked the audience to quiet down for one of their slower ballads, “These Days”. The audience, stoked for a crowd favorite, could not keep quiet. Maybe out of frustration, maybe out of sheer exhaustion, Kelly wept on the stage saying, “I am sorry, this has just been such a long tour”.
It is 2022 now and much has changed. For one, long-time bandmate Marty Sulkow, who had left the band before Still Run, has rejoined the group for their third album Letter Blue. The band has also left their contract with Columbia Records, citing budget restraints and bureaucracy straining their creative instincts. Instead, they have been producing their newest music independently. For a band lauded as a pioneer in sad indie synth-pop, these changes have brought about a renaissance – and the fans could not be more in love.
So high is the level of trust in Wet’s taste – and branding – that the room was filled even for the opener, Zsela (image above), at Wet’s show in Portland at the Doug Fir Lounge on May 9th. For an artist with only 9 of her own songs on Spotify (not counting remixes) the audience swayed and sang along, cheering and clapping enthusiastically in all of the right places. Commitment to Wet may have brought the audience in, but Zsela enraptured them with her ethereal voice and incredibly modern cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”.
The show was sold out, and as the time inched toward 10 PM the already intimate space grew more and more crowded. The mood, however, did not change. The Monday night show was not sold out by friends of fans and the kind of attendees who had heard of the band but were mostly looking for something to do, but by true fans, the kind of fans that knew every word to every song. The kind of fans that would rage for songs that one might also cry in the shower to. Not an insignificant number of folks came solo, swaying, singing, and raising their cups to one another. The crowd not only loved the band but truly wanted to see them succeed. As soon as the band stepped on stage and began playing the opening chords of Letter Blue’s “Larabar,” cries of “ohmygod, I love this song” filled the space; cries that repeated in all corners of the venue during every single song in Wet’s set.
Early on in the show, about two or three songs in, there was a bit of a technical malfunction. The microphone – or was it the amp? – would emit a loud popping sound every few seconds. There was a flash of distress on Kelly’s face, and the close observer would notice Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow glance at each other as if to say, “what the fuck are we going to do here”. For half a second the crowd seemed to hold its breath. And then someone screamed, “WE LOVE YOU KELLY” and then “AND MARTY,” and someone else “AND JOEY TOO.” The microphone popped a couple of more times but, like the professionals they are, a few tweaks were made and the show went on.
Where previous Wet shows have been raw and emotional, this one oozed professionalism. The band performed a story of friendship, of breaking apart and coming back together stronger and more creative than before. Producer Joe Valle, in particular, let loose on stage in what can only be described as pure joy in the art of performing. Several times he would glance across the stage at bandmate Marty, the two would share a smile, and the next drop would come with renewed vigor. Songs that previously seemed to be about breakups from romantic partners, in this context, seemed to be about the hurt and power in the relationships that often outlast our romantic ones – the ones with our friends.
In “11 Hours”, a song about being gaslit by and eventually drawing boundaries with a romantic (or maybe musical) partner, Kelly laments:
You leave me no choice
I’ve waited 11 hours
Up all night, you took my power
Instead of performing the song with the kind of frailty and vulnerability that is heard on the album, Kelly sang it with the kind of strength that can only be seen by someone who is on the other side, by someone who has taken back her power.
As in 2018, though, the crowd, so full of love and support, could not keep quiet throughout the entire set. Ecstatic cheers accompanied every song. There was a chorus of “oh my god her voice” as Kelly sang. When the encore came around, Kelly said to the audience that they would perform one or two more songs. Someone in the front screamed back “Three more songs! Three more songs, respectfully!” Perhaps in a different year, at a different time, this would have influenced the band to do other than what they had rehearsed. Instead, they closed with “Only One” and “You’re the Best”, a song that has been around since their first EP in 2014. A song that, in its origination, listens as one about the moment that comes before a breakup – when that small but persistent voice in your mind tells you that ending this is the right thing to do, but finds itself still unready to admit the faults in your partner. As a closing song, it feels like an ode to the audience:
But, baby, you’re the best
We’ll figure out the rest
And maybe it’s a test
I think we’d better quit while we’re ahead
A song, transformed. It’s a celebration of a great show and the insertion of a strong but respectable boundary; one that says we love this art and this job and this support, but now it is time we go home.
photo by Rachel Marie