Wild Belle at the 9:30 Club

Chicago's Wild Belle brings an eclectic style of music to DC's 9:30 Club. Photo: Wild Belle

WASHINGTON, March, 5, 2013 —There are a string of bands out there claiming they’re an “eclectic mix” of styles. But seem to end up playing something that’s just basic pop/rock. There are fewer bands that actually live by that “eclectic mix” credo and incorporate whatever they can think of into their sonic mix. That’s likely because the results of this approach are more often than not something of a mess.

Then there’s a band like Wild Belle.

Wild Belle’s begins and ends with brother and sister duo Elliot and Natalie Bergman. They’re an indie rock band, but only because that’s the easiest way to classify them. More accurately, they expound on the template and fly somewhat wildly off in several directions, meshing several different styles, attempting to put together a coherent package on the fly.

This made it seem, initially at least, like their recent show at the 9:30 Club was something of a chaotic affair, which it certainly wasn’t. From a theoretical standpoint however, you actually could decide that Wild Belle is quite chaotic. The problem is, except in practice, their actual set is fairly mellow and easygoing. But this is what happens when a band blends genres like ska, reggae, and jazz among others.

All three of those genres had similar origins before they were appropriated by different cultures. All moved on to possess different meanings as they gained more attention. So, at first it seems like a band going in this direction is combining a number of divergent sounds. But in reality, they’re getting more to the core concept of these various genres. Add a little natural funk to this clustering, and that’s essentially the foundation of Wild Belle.

Their live set seems to be encased in a psychedelic package. That gives their songs a characteristic slow tempo and mellow vibe. Nothing about the band’s set is rushed, from the structure of the melody to the way they move on stage—which is not so much movement as we generally understand it, but more of a gentle flow instead.

Of course this ends up matching the vocals of Natalie Bergman perfectly. Just like the quality of the band’s sound, she holds on to mellow without ranging far afield. Her voice initially strikes one as quite high pitched. But in the process of singing each song, she keeps this calibrated at a low hum her entire time on stage. This has something of a trance like effect on the audience, as if she were putting them under hypnosis, enhancing the psychedelic feel the band appears to be projecting.

By the end of their set though, Wild Belle manages to blow up the blueprint they’ve been building all evening. Before their last song, their cohesive sound cradles Natalie Bergman’s vocals, fitting in without exactly standing out – with the possible exception of the bass who puts out a particularly notable funk sound. But at a certain point in the set, Elliot Bergman decided to insert himself more prominently into the mix, pushing the saxophone to the forefront. Normally this kind of alteration could throw off the entire, organic feel of the set. Fortunately, it fit in almost seamlessly with Wild Belle, since the band’s laid-back vibe never allowed them to miss a beat.

After a half hour set though, that seemingly unusual moment was the moment that ultimately stood out, just as much as Wild Belle stands out among the indie-pop crowd. Their aesthetic and presence feels unique and perhaps a little quirky. That said, though, we’d add the caveat that they’re able to hold everything together at the same time.

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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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