Pop punk veterans and newcomers alike assembled in Limelight on 25th September for a very exciting, hefty slice of nostalgia in the form of Wheatus – returning to Belfast for the first time since early 2000s for a 15th anniversary tour.
The American rockers and deliverers of all things 1990s/2000s sold out a show that was dedicated to showcasing and remembering their self-titled debut album in all its glory. Tickets were in such demand the gig had to be moved to bigger venue Limelight 1 to accommodate Wheatus fans old, new and the ‘I’m just here for Teenage Dirtbag lol’ type of deal (inevitable, really).
Accompanied by Gabrielle Sterbenz, The Hipstones and Mike Doughty, the atmosphere was completely welcoming, friendly and informal without being unprofessional from the start, with all three support acts having evidently close connections with the headline band. Gabrielle Sterbenz took to the stage to kick things off. Sterbenz is one of two backup vocalists for Wheatus at present but has branched off into a solo career which she was showcasing for the first time in Belfast. The American singer/songwriter’s set featured songs from 2014 EP The Bridge and ranged from delicate harmonies bouncing off soft guitar and drum beats to more upbeat tunes with a Regina Spektor kind of vibe. Her voice was as delightful as her presence on stage and the set was certainly a warm welcome for the growing crowd.
Next up were The Hipstones’ two permanent members Anthea White and Mark Palmer, bringing with them a complete switch in genre, an incredibly adventurous patterned shirt and an unborn child (in the belly of the former, obviously). This was to be the first of two appearances on stage for Mark Palmer, who also plays keyboard for Wheatus. Since 2006 they have toured as a rotating seven-piece ensemble promoting their unique sound, founded upon jazz and fused with electronic elements and futuristic beats. Playing hits from their latest album Wise Man (2014) the pair opened their set with some beat-boxing that formed the basis for their electronic, robotic sound. The use of warped vocals and synthesisers completely changed the atmosphere – so much so people who left for the bar may well have returned thinking a questionable stranger had laced their drink with some sort of psychedelic drug. It was like a very welcomed trip for the ears without the illegal substance and the crowd were drawn in from the start.
Support act three of three was now up and American singer/songwriter Mike Doughty took to the stage. The former member and founder of 90s band Soul Coughing is not without his own connection with Wheatus who took their place on stage as his band. From his eye-catching guitar to his hat and hipster glasses Doughty captured the crowd from the moment he greeted us with a hearty, American ‘Good evening friends!’ With 17 studio albums, live albums and EPs behind him since 2000 it wasn’t surprising how easy he could instantly command the whole room. He not only had his incredibly raw, strong voice as a talent but also the ability to make every single audience member almost swoon as he charmed the crowd with comments like ‘I’m highly aroused by you guys.’ (Oh, STOP.) Playing singles from 2015 album Stellar Motel, effortlessly intertwining rap and rock, the audience ate up every second. Before departing he was sure to remind the crowd ‘next up is Wheatus and they WILL play Teenage Dirtbag!’ (To the relief of the guy mentioned above.)
As the stage was getting prepared Brown appeared to take selfies with the crowd – a crowd about ready to explode with anticipation to hear the songs they’ve been rocking out to for over a decade. Brown, otherwise known as BBB, and his five band members ran onto stage to the screams that have been stored in the lungs of Wheatus fans waiting for this sweet moment since early 2000s. As of 2006 BBB is the only remaining member from the original line up and was the one to lead us all skipping down memory lane. The format of the set was laid out for us – ‘Boys and girls: you guys shout out the songs you want us to play and we’ll play ‘em.’ It was clear there was no strict schedule or setlist for the band to follow – it was what the audience wanted that would control this set and the solid communication between band and audience was incredibly refreshing. It was a relaxed mix of Wheatus old and new, opening with ‘No Happy Ending Tune’ from their third album ‘TooSoonMonsoon’. The energy and genuine desire to be there from the band was incredibly infectious and the atmosphere never dulled for even a second. Each song was followed by an ‘Okay, what’s next kids?’ prompt and the audience’s response didn’t once die down. The volume Brown and backing vocalists Gabrielle and Joey gained as each song crescendoed was amazing, the familiar American twang bursting through which seems to always translate in Wheatus songs.
In the middle of the set it seemed it was time for most anticipated song 1 of 2 and the crowd erupted as Brown suggested ‘How about we play A Little Respect?’ Peaking at number 3 in the UK in 2001 but remaining number 1 in our hearts the crowd carried every note with the band, clearly ready for this moment since the era of primary school discos. The laidback nature of the band was confirmed while playing single ‘Punk Ass Bitch’. Once finished BBB announced ‘Guys full disclosure – I forgot almost every lyric of that entire song.’ It was an entire set later that it was the time our favourite guy had been waiting for – ‘Is it that time already? It’s time to play the Teenage Dirtbaggitygagbag song!’ (Teenage Dirtbag guy hits the deck in sheer excitement.)
The crowd surged forward and people scrambled on top of shoulders as the band prepared for a moment most of us could only have dreamed of every time we sang about prom night and being lonely. From there Wheatus delivered a version of the Platinum single beyond what we could have hoped for. Mike Doughty brought the numbers up to a full house on stage as everyone completely let loose to the encouragements of ‘Say Oh My God!’. Brown thanked the crowd for the incredible response the song has had from the start, explaining that it is this song that has made their record label and them as a band. It was the turn of the crowd to take over for the song’s famous bridge and the volume they reached was equal to the huge fame the song has gained over the years – everyone within a 10 mile radius could have heard about the tickets we had to Iron Maiden (baby). It was with that the set came to a close and not one person could have walked away unsatisfied. And if that wasn’t enough for the audience the band then took to the streets for photos and autographs, clearly appreciative of the people that had obviously been dedicated fans since their formation many moons ago. Clare Hogarth, GiggingNI.com