Just like last year, Wussy will be taking the Midpoint Music Festival Main Stage in Washington Park opening for 90’s alt-rock legends from southeastern Ohio (The Breeders last year, The Afghan Whigs this time around). Just like last year, they’ll probably open with “Teenage Wasteland,” a rock and roll Saturn V rocket. But this year, they’ve got the momentum of a hugely successful new album and sold out shows from coast to coast. People are finally figuring out what Cincinnatians have known for years: Wussy is something special.
Wussy formed in 2001, with Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker at the helm, both on guitar, vocals, and handling the songwriting. Cleaver’s band Ass Ponys (mainstays on the 90’s Cincinnati scene and brief major label also-rans on MTV) was still together, but went on an indefinite hiatus in 2005, the same year Wussy’s debut Funeral Dress was released. Cleaver and Walker were in a relationship for the first few years of the band’s existence, and their breakups threatened the group’s future. But romantic tumult yielded spectacular creative results. “Waiting Room,” from 2011’s Strawberry, is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, fixated on the mundane details that surround you as life falls apart: “Cover blown, you try to own too many indiscretions/You break it off and tell him that you’re sorry that he never knew/It hounds you like the soundtrack in the waiting room.”
The band has had one famous longtime champion: Robert Christgau, the “Dean of American Rock Critics” himself. Since the very first Wussy record, he’s called them his “favorite American band,” even finding a way to wedge them into his obituary of Lou Reed. Attica! seems to be the broader breakthrough Wussy’s deserved for a decade. Major music media ran with the record, and they earned positive reviews in Pitchfork, Spin, PopMatters, the New York Observer, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Their April appearance at Webster Hall was a Critic’s Pick in the New York Times.
The overdue Attica! accolades are well-deserved. It’s as strong as any of their albums, and the aforementioned “Teenage Wasteland” may stand as their greatest song to date. The song is written to The Who (“We heard you Pete, heard you loud and clear on the last one”), imagining hearing “Baba O’Riley” while “stuck in a corn maze with only a transistor radio.” But it stands as a universal testament to the first time you emotionally connect with music in the middle of nowhere: “It don’t take much to sound like a sleeping prophet/When your misery sounds so much like ours so far away.”
On “Acetylene,” Cleaver wields a quiet wrecking ball: “This is not a home, this is an apartment/Surrounded by the things accumulated here/This is not a dream, this is disappointment/Pop a cork alone to toast another year.” Walker’s pretty “Halloween,” played at last year’s Midpoint set, nails the casual pretensions of adolescence, and she describes “when I was fourteen at the fair, declaring things I’d never been.” The anachronistic chorus of “Beautiful” rounds the whole thing out, Cleaver and Walker harmonizing, “I’m not the monster that I once was/Twenty years ago I was more beautiful than I am today.”
So after a huge national tour, Wussy returns to Ohio, still our finest band, but now with many more people aware of the fact. I can think of few others so adept at capturing Midwestern malaise and ennui, relatable regional music that speaks just as much as the all the Pizza Kings of central Indiana as the Skylines of Cincinnati. So on Friday, make sure to get to Washington Park in plenty of time to welcome them home from their whirlwind coast-to-coast summer. We’re lucky to have them back.