By Lindsey Millar
The Whigs with Venice is Rising
Saturday, Jan. 19
10 p.m., $7.
The Whigs come pedigreed. From the same fertile Athens, Ga. music scene that birthed bands like R.E.M. and the B-52s in the '80s and Vic Chesnutt and the Elephant 6 collective in the '90s, the Whigs emerged in 2004 as a local favorite in a city that may have more bands per capita than anywhere in the country. The no-frills rock trio toured hard, and even before they'd released anything they'd had WTF? gigs with bands like Franz Ferdinand and the Killers, a cruise to Mexico on “The Rock Boat” with Sister Hazel and something called “The Jingle Ball” hosted by Jessica Simpson.
Major labels took note, but the Whigs decided to do their debut their damn selves. In the summer of 2005, the trio borrowed the shut-for-the-summer SAE house on the University of Georgia campus and recorded their tuneful debut, “Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip,” with friend and UGA Bulldogs placekicker Billy Bennett. More hard touring followed. The Whigs would do things like drive 14 hours straight to play to overstuffed crowds in New York — and then turn right around and head back.
After Rolling Stone suggested that the Whigs might be the best unsigned band in the country in 2006, ATO Records scooped up the group and re-released “Give 'Em All.” The debut was one of the bright spots in rock in 2006. Full of sunny, Southern-tinged hooks, it suggested a bittersweet, jangley bite somewhere in between the Replacements and Superchunk. Lead singer and guitarist Parker Gispert talk-sings his way through easy, breezy lyrics of girls and technology and who knows what, while bassist Hank Sullivant carries a heavier than usual weight of the melody on his bass and drummer Julian Dorio manages to drum a lot, awesomely — no easy feat.
Saturday's show at Sticky Fingerz finds the Whigs on the eve of the release of the band's much-anticipated sophomore effort, “Mission Control” (it also comes a little more than week before the band appears on Letterman on Monday, Jan. 28). It seems a fair bet that the fellas will be selling the record a few days early. I'll have my fingers crossed. “Right Hand on My Heart” is the best free mp3 on the web of late. The formula hasn't changed; it's just intensified. Dorio, in particular, shines on drums. He's hunting the ghost of Keith Moon with his furious kit work, and with considerable effort ends up stealing the song, though the hooks and riffs Gispert manages won't unstick easily from your head. It's epic Southern rock. Check it out on the Times' Rock Candy blog.
Another buzzworthy Athens group opens. Venice is Sinking specializes in atmospheric dream pop that, like the Whigs, harkens back to the days when college radio actually meant something. Expect lots of winning boy-girl harmonies and lush orchestration. Opening for the opener is one of Little Rock's most promising pop-rock acts. Big Boots rose from the ashes of the formidable rock outfit Sugar and the Raw, but increasingly, the new band seems well on its way to eclipsing the old. Saturday's show will mark the debut of the American Princes' Luke Hunsicker on bass.