It was a rainy Wednesday, and the show I was supposed to attend, Too Many Zooz, was canceled. I had trekked all the way to Detroit expecting to see one of my favorite artists and was instead greeted by a pair of bouncers shaking their heads “no” and a taunting silence. Not wanting to waste the night, I pulled out my phone and searched for concerts near me. Holy Wave, a band I had never heard of before, was playing a mile away — I purchased a $10 ticket and walked down the block.
My friend and I were the youngest people at the dive bar: 30-somethings in flannels and leopard print thronged the booths, sipping their PBRs and murmuring amongst themselves. The few tables were surprisingly crowded for a midweek night, one of them draped in Holy Wave merchandise: T-shirts and records printed in psychedelic patterns. The building was dimly lit, save the bright moon and stars projected onto the wall backing the stage. A small disco ball hung over the dance floor, spinning in anticipation.
The opening band, Visions, set the tone for the night with a stream of endless guitar solos and psychedelic melodies. After professing their love for hallucinogenic mushrooms, they were replaced on stage by five unassuming men dressed in front-facing baseball caps and hoodies.
“Don’t worry,” singer Ryan Fuson assured the crowd, “I’m not trying to be cool. I’m just wearing shorts because I have poison ivy.” I did not doubt this: Fuson’s dirty Converse were already kicked to the side, his ill-fitting Cher t-shirt hanging off his shoulders. It was instantly clear that Holy Wave was there, and only there, for their music.
Kyle Hager, one of the forces behind forming the band, began to play eerie notes on his electric keyboard, the sounds of a digital organ leaking into the chatter of the audience. It wasn’t until Julian Ruiz followed with a gentle drum beat, and then Fuson with melancholy vocals, that the crowd realized the hypnotic sound they had been enveloped in. I watched the disco ball spin slowly as Holy Wave played silky psychedelic songs sprinkled with synth.
Existing somewhere between the hollow indie sound of Yo La Tengo and the dreamy trance vibe of Beach House, Holy Wave alternated from guitar-heavy rock tracks (“Psychological Thriller,” “Mouth Mountain”) to repetitive meditations (“Schmetterling,” “California Took My Bobby Away”). Fuson and Hagers’s shared vocals cut through the bar like a mournful birdsong — the vocals were more about the emotional capacity than the lyrics.
Most of the songs they performed came from their most recent LP release, Interloper, but they also returned to many of their old popular tracks from albums Relax and Freak of Nurture. Throughout the show, their performance reminded me of that of a jazz group. Each musician was deeply invested in their instrument, popping up with guitar solos or synth arrangements over the backbone of Ruiz’s drumming.
Around 1 a.m., Holy Wave finished their set with the fan-favorite “She Put a Seed in My Ear,” gripping the audience’s attention right before they exited the stage as nonchalantly as they entered. The room I was in returned to an empty, dark space filled only with the sound of chatter and rain outside the window. I sat back down in the booth, leaning my head against the wall, and looked up again at the moon and stars projected on stage. I felt simultaneously calm yet invigorated, and ultimately glad that I had ended up in that random dive bar. Though I did not see what I originally wanted on that dreary Wednesday night, Holy Wave ended up being the exact band that I needed.
Daily Arts Contributor Bella Greenbacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.