Photo of Big Wreck by Nikki Ormerod, courtesy of Warner Music Canada.
Don’t you just hate having to sell your friends on a band so they will go to a show with you? Don’t you just hate the fact that you live somewhere that doesn’t get routed on a tour because the turnouts in your city can be sparse? Don’t you just hate it when local media are lukewarm to promoting acts that aren’t very popular or at least “on trend” with one particular counterculture or another?
That’s a lot of hate to stomach, in these hateful times we find ourselves. But sometimes we have to swallow our pride and do something we dislike for the sake of something we love. And I love music that moves me emotionally. I love music that makes me feel transcendent. I hoard it, I love it so. I share it—freely, yet discriminately—out of love. I wouldn’t want my love being taken for granted and unappreciated.
That said, I have been in a long distance relationship with my favorite bands for what feels like decades. They make their living on the coasts and overseas, they don’t prosper their well being spending time around these environs. I don’t begrudge them that. I want them to do well. But when they do make their way to the Midwest, especially the greater St. Louis area, I feel honor bound to be present, to let them know their efforts are appreciated, their works loved. There is nothing more encouraging than not being alone in that display, being able to manifest that love in sheer numbers, especially when they’re not precedented. Being a fan of bands that are less familiar in your region makes that a challenge.
Love is patient, love is kind, and it conquers all, but polyamory is probably better for attendance as far as concerts are concerned. So I want you all to love Big Wreck the way I love Big Wreck. And the way I love Big Wreck is the way a 21-year-old recovering from their first serious (in their head) relationship imploding loves feeling “over it” and free. I love Big Wreck the way a music lover is revitalized when, after a band that saved their lives breaks up, they find another band who taps into similar energies as their departed inspirations and merges them with other influences in creative ways, evolving their taste and ambitions along the way. I want you all to feel a kinship with the band as human beings, their humor & humility endearing them to you the way a friends of many years has. I want you to fall in love with the idea that in other parts of this continent there exists a reality where Alternative Rock never lost its moxy when the fragmentation of that wide-open genre began, and bands continued to make rock music meant to carry the torch from the pioneers of the late ‘60s revolution of the genre through the decades. That artists wouldn’t be encumbered by commercial or anti-establishment expectations, instead they would be thrilled to make music for people who loved music.
I have to confess that things were easier in the ‘90s. Great rock music was in high demand and trends shifted quickly, so the chance for innovation, or reimagining long departed great eras, was ever-present. When the titans of the early ‘90s Alternative Rock movement disbanded, or were subject to tragic ends, there was always hope that the torch would be carried forth by another great band waiting in the wings. Of all the torch bearers I sought in the mid-to-late ‘90s, none have been more worthy than Big Wreck, because even then they stood out as poised to move that kind of music forward without losing sight of what makes it so enthralling.
At a time when I was letting myself get into roots music unironically, hearing Howlin’ Wolf for the first time, “The Oaf” (their lead single off their debut, In Loving Memory Of), led off with a combination of epic Who-like arpeggio and shifted into a Hill Country Blues slide guitar riff that carried the verses. When Ian Thornley opened with what I will forever call “the Wolf’s Howl” that you’d know if you listen to any of Howlin’ Wolf’s Chess Records, I knew I’d found a band that put together a mix of influences that I would have never combined on my own, but had been impressed by as I’d grown my horizons as a listener. They were taking influences of my influences that I was only just discovering and making a new amalgamation that worked for me better than anything I’d heard up to that point in my life. And that’s just the opener.
When “That Song” hit, and “Oh My” rocked me with yet another additoin to my list of wonderful waltzes, I knew I was on to something…major. This band was a force to be reckoned, as musicians and songwriters. That debut was evocative, varied, and consistent. It was the next step in rock music, or at least what would have been the next logical step in my ideal timeline. And then when their follow-up The Pleasure and the Greed hit the ground running with “Inhale” I was just beside myself. It was Skydiving, Jet Flying, Warp Drive Igniting music, and I was truly loving it. The album delivered on every level emotionally and musically. It soundtracked fight and flight, exhilaration and regret alike. I had my go-to band to champion and follow after losing so many others. And then the band parted ways.
It was yet another heartbreak, soothed by the two releases by Thornley, Ian’s band, and ultimately healed by their reunion in 2010 for The Albatross, which tapped into all the best aspects of Big Wreck, and Thornley’s ever evolving craft as songwriters and arrangers. The maturation of their tonal choices and application of dynamic range was a kindness I thought had parted from this world. I was free to love music without compromise or complication. These creators who I felt “got me” were plying their craft again after what felt like a lengthy hiatus. They’ve been with us ever since, steadily working at adding to their catalog, so when some lovelorn fan of rock finds themselves hoping they can one day find a band that really gets the power of ambitious, but melodic, anthemic rock music that can, in a moment, shift to a meditation on transcendental melancholy, or acerbically witty self-examination, you can seek them out and know you won’t be let down. The best romantic fiction sees a protagonist swept off their feet by a foil that’s fun and frenetic, refreshing and empathetic. You watch the story play out and ask yourself how the heck does someone not fall for a flame of that sort? That’s how I’ve felt about the music of Big Wreck for many moons, and you have to believe that’s the way Big Wreck feel about making and playing music. I want that kind of love for music encouraged for everyone, and I encourage you to do the same. Show Big Wreck some love Saturday 10/12/19 at Delmar Hall. | Willie Edward Smith