For audience members trickling back in to the Rumba Café music club holding their vaccine cards and negative tests, Wild Pink’s “Sunday Happy Hour” show in Columbus, Ohio unexpectedly provided a layer of protection unusual for the tiny venue: social distancing.
“We knew that COVID would have a bad effect on show attendance, and to some extent that’s true,” said John Ross, Wild Pink’s frontman, over the phone before the band’s Denver show. “But everybody’s been very responsible, getting vaccinated, coming out, making a point to do the right thing to see music, among other good reasons to get vaccinated. It’s definitely exceeded my expectations.”
The intimate Sunday evening show was a real-life representation of Wild Pink’s Spotify listener count: bewilderingly low given Wild Pink’s easily listenable, pretty music, and the popularity of the artists the band evokes.
The show opened with “Burger Hill,” a cut from Wild Pink’s 2018 record Yolk in the Fur. The song features a delicate guitar intro even calmer and mistier than Bon Iver’s “Holocene,” but Wild Pink can do both; a contrasting, signature, heavy heartland-rock chug is the throughline piercing through all three of the band’s records.
“That chug, it’s big,” said Ross. “Me and Dan [Keegan], the drummer, we have a name for it—the Petty Beat.”
Tom Petty is definitely a reference point for the band, whose last two albums have carved Wild Pink a niche in indie music somewhere in the unexpected space between Petty, Bon Iver, the War on Drugs, and M83.
Amid the heavy chug and gossamer picked-guitar lines, Yolk in the Fur summoned the essence of pedal steel even when it wasn’t actually present. But on Wild Pink’s most recent album, February’s A Billion Little Lights, the band moved pedal steel to the front of their sound, tone-painting underneath their lyrics about the American West and creating a distinctly expansive sonic universe. Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner’s pedal steel especially elevated songs like “Oversharers Anonymous” and “Pacific City.”
“[Pedal steel] is one of my favorite instruments, and I don’t think that it would have been featured as prominently if it wasn’t for Mike,” said Ross, who found the Magnolia Electric Company and Songs: Ohia veteran on Craigslist. “You trust him to do his thing on all these tunes and he doesn’t disappoint. He’s incredible…I feel really lucky to keep playing with him.”
Though Wild Pink is technically a trio of Ross, drummer Dan Keegan, and bassist T.C. Brownell, the additions of Brenner and keyboardist Brianne Peterson (“This is her first tour and the first show on this tour was her first show ever,” said Ross) round out Wild Pink’s touring outfit.
In contrast to the living-room release show the band released as a live album earlier this month, the five-piece impossibly brings out the full sonic experience of A Billion Little Lights live on tour, even though the record sounds like it was meticulously layered and laid out in the studio.
Ross didn’t worry about how to play the tracks live when he put the album together: “It seemed more important to me at the time to just make the arrangements really lush and to kind of figure it out later.” He’s happy with the result of the tour shows, though—the players’ talent makes the songs sound like an effortless jam rather than an attempt to stick strictly to the script.
However, this approach meant the record’s seamless Side A and Side B halves didn’t make it to the live show. There were some tracks that “I just didn’t even try because I feel like we would’ve got into some laptop backtracks territory that I didn’t want to get into,” said Ross. The lack of backing tracks makes Wild Pink’s live performance even more impressive; the sound is textured and just as big as the record, yet Ross is the only guitarist on stage.
Grand, evocative, and ambitious, A Billion Little Lights feels like the apex of the trajectory the band’s previous albums set forth, and Ross thinks it’s time for Wild Pink to take a different direction from the clear ideas he’s traditionally demoed and brought to the band. “We’re going to make a new record at the end of this year and with that, I really want it to be more collaborative, experimental,” he said.
“[With] A Billion Little Lights, the arrangements were pretty big, and it’s just a pretty big-sounding record. I want to make something a little more stripped-down and raw and I think that’s kind of what I’m going for this next record.”
Wild Pink has had a busy year already; besides releasing their third LP in February and a live album in September, they also released two EPs. Their 6 Cover Songs EP includes “When You’re Alone” by Bruce Springsteen as well as more surprising covers like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift and the Jeopardy! theme song. In June, the band also released 3 Songs, an EP of tracks written during the Yolk in the Fur era but not recorded until the sessions for A Billion Little Lights, one of which features fellow NYC artist Samia.
Ratboys singer Julia Steiner also lent her voice to multiple songs on this year’s Wild Pink record. Ratboys and Wild Pink are currently co-headlining a United States tour together; over several years and several tours together, the two bands have become “very good friends.” Ross said it “just felt really right” to do their first tour back with them.
Does the band have any plans for Steiner to join them onstage to sing during this tour? “She hasn’t yet, but we’re gonna do it at some point. I think that’d be really fun,” said Ross.
Catch Steiner’s performance with Wild Pink at the remaining tour dates below. Tickets are available on Wild Pink’s website.
Sep 27 Mon – Barboza – Seattle, WA w/Ratboys
Sep 28 Tue – Mississippi – Studios Portland, OR w/Ratboys
Sep 30 Thu – Bottom Of the Hill – San Francisco, CA w/Ratboys
Oct 1 Fri – Bootleg Theater – Los Angeles, CA w/Ratboys
Oct 2 Sat – Valley Bar – Phoenix, AZ w/Ratboys
Oct 4 Mon – Lulu’s Upstairs Standing – Manitou Springs, CO w/Ratboys
Oct 5 Tue – Reverb Lounge – Omaha, NE w/Ratboys
Oct 6 Wed – Shi-tty Barn – Spring Green, WI w/Ratboys
Oct 7 Thu – Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
Oct 10 Sun – The Foundry – Lakewood, OH w/As Well