Wilson at DC9

The hard rockers from Detroit, Wilson, explore the stage at DC9. Photo: Wilson

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2013 —To be perfectly honest, when it comes to Wilson’s recent show at DC9, only about a dozen people stuck around to watch the band perform. It’s easy to speculate on why something like this would happen. Being something of niche genre band from Detroit or having a fairly nondescript name like “Wilson” might play large factor in the poor turnout. Playing in the middle of the week on a relatively cold day might also have contributed.

That’s where the criticism stops, however. Anyone who planned to watch Wilson but didn’t show up really missed out on his mix of pure melodic metal with a hint of some basic rock and hardcore swagger thrown in for good measure. Wilson is the kind of band that throws everything they have into a show regardless of attendance. While they might not draw huge crowds, they certainly deserve more attention than they seem to be getting.

The crux of the band is the sheer amount of energy they put into every song. Watching them perform is immensely fun to witness from an objective distance, but it also can feel somewhat exhausting. The onslaught of their songs never stops for a single second. Theirs is the kind of set that doesn’t take a long time in actual performance time. Yet so much heart is poured out that after a little over a half hour goes by, the set feels much longer than it actually was.

Front man Chad Nicefield is the personification of Wilson’s entire musical agenda. While the band is pushing out their crunching metal, Nicefield behaves like a bearded maniac roaming the crowd, screaming, singing, and growling. In fact, it seems that giving him more space to move around within the crowd results in even more craziness than one would deem possible. If he’s not performing his vocal duties, he’s high fiving whomever he can find, or pulling out a marching band drum kit to help give his stage wandering even more purpose.

The pinnacle of Nicefield’s stage performance came during Wilson’s inspired cover of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” during which he perched himself on the bar and began to serenade the bartender. The type of energy emitted throughout this kind of exercise is totally engrossing, and most of all just plain fun. Another band in a similar situation could seem plodding, boring, and contrived.

Nicefield is definitely the visual focal point of Wilson’s sonic attack, but none of it would work and would feel downright hokey without the band’s considerable efforts backing him up the entire time. The kind of sound Wilson deploys wasn’t very evident less than a decade ago. In fact, even in recent years, his approach might have been easily met with exasperation and rolling eyeballs.

Wilson specializes in an almost unique hybrid sound that veers between heavy metal, hard rock, and hardcore. It’s something that’s still not common at this level but is gaining more acceptance. It’s the synthesis of heavy metal riffing, hard rock driving, and solid amount of hardcore aesthetics. At worst it can feel cheesy, as if a band is openly pandering to various sensibilities that might not play well together in normal circumstances.  Music like this—a hard riffing, growling sonic force—in the hands of a band like Wilson takes on an authentic, fist-pumping toughness.

The hope is that a band like Wilson will eventually achieve bigger things. Even if that should happen, though, it doesn’t seem like it’ll affect them too much. Regardless of what audience shows up to see them, Wilson is the kind of band that isn’t going to stop moving and churning until they’re physically forced to leave to the stage.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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