The Nashville indie rock scene is getting plenty of attention these days, and rightly so. It takes just a cursory listen to the “Nashville Indie Spotlight” album available on Spotify and iTunes to realize that Music City has more to offer than simply country music.
While electropop rockers Wild Cub weren’t one of the 30 bands featured on the spotlight, it’s just proof of how deep the scene is. Fresh off the major re-release of their self-released 2013 album “Youth” and an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, Wild Cub treated a sold-out Tractor Tavern to an intense, if brief, dance party Thursday night.
Led by Portland-to-Nashville transplant Keegan DeWitt, the band got off to a surprisingly rocky start as the lurching bass of “Shapeless” muddled DeWitt’s vocals. But that might have been merely a function of a mic that wasn’t turned up high enough, because by the time Wild Cub turned its attention to the hard-driving “Colour,” DeWitt and the band had taken control.
Wild Cub wears plenty of influences on its sleeves, from the pop flavor of Phoenix to some cascading drums that recall Phil Collins, but they manage to sound unique despite that fact. Songs like “Blacktide” could have turned into a straight-ahead dance anthem if not for the quirky bassline that helped elevate it to something more challenging but ultimately more satisfying. DeWitt’s skill as a composer (he’s composed several film scores) shines through in the way that Wild Cub builds and releases tension.
The band slowed things down for a couple of songs, including the atmospheric slow burn of “The Water,” which ended up finally showcasing DeWitt’s voice. It was a nice change of pace because Keegan often has a flange effect on his vocals similar to Phil Collins on “In The Air Tonight” that muddied things up a little at times.
But that’s a minor complaint, and one that hardly anyone must have been thinking about when the grooves Wild Cub peddles are so infectious. They whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their single “Thunder Clatter,” an assertive piece of dance pop that’s enough of an earworm to have made it into a Bose commercial.
“Summer Fires/Hidden Spells,” which sounded a bit like a “Thriller” mashup, closed things out. The set was short and sweet, but the band has only one album so it wasn’t much of a surprise that they played for just under an hour.
Judging by the happy, exhausted faces that streamed out into the cold January night, that didn’t matter one bit. Kill Rock Stars’ Hands opened things up with their own take on dance-y chillwave.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails