This past Friday, June 20th, I saw Warpaint open up for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in Milwaukee. They played a short set of five songs, Keep it Healthy, Love is to Die, Disco//Very, then a beautiful song whose title I don’t know, and they ended with a delightfully jammed up version of Elephants.
People might wonder why I’m writing about Warpaint and not the headliner, Nick Cave. I love Nick Cave. He’s a genius, and the Bad Seeds are among the tightest, most explosive yet nuanced and intelligent acts I’ve ever seen. But I did not seek out Nick Cave when I went looking for tickets. I went to this show because it was my only chance to see Warpaint before leaving for Europe later this summer, and they just happened to be opening for Nick Cave. So this was a no-brainer.
While Warpaint are hip and cool, I cannot consider myself among those people who “knew about them all along”. Adding insult to the injury of a midlife crisis I’m facing right now, I learned about Warpaint not by hearing about them from students, reading about them in a magazine, stumbling on their tracks via Pandora or Spotify or even seeing them open for Nick Cave. I got them for the first time via NPR’s All Things Considered. (So if there was ever any doubt that I am a middle aged, liberal, nerdy and overeducated suburban dad…)
The first measure of Love is to Die seduced me beyond hope. I knew I would be checking out all this band’s stuff so soon as I went home, and I downloaded two whole albums, The Fool and their eponymous second record, plus an EP of live tracks, Rough Trade Sessions, without hearing more than a few segments of a few available samples. For many weeks, I listened to the records obsessively on headphones, on my stereo and in my car.
The last time I was this excited about a band came after I first heard Radiohead’s OK Computer. I won’t compare Warpaint to Radiohead right now, but I’ll say this: If these girls stay together, they will leave a path that will be remembered for a long time as they influence many artists and touch many listeners along the way.
Warpaint have been together for a decade, and you can hear the depth and patience of that time in their rich and layered sound. They’re experienced headliners and festival performers, yet they understood their role as Nick Cave’s opening act. If I have a negative critique of their performance, it’s that they were too modest. Listening to them, I could tell there was a layer, perhaps an entire realm, an ethereal plane left muted behind their sound.
Describing it is challenging. At once airy and compressed, psychedelic yet incised, fluid yet structured, their atmosphere of reverb and harmony inspired me to visions: the impression that I was looking up at Van Gogh’s Starry Night—a live sky slashed and swirled with flaming yellow plumes and spirals—while lying back and submerged on the sandy bottom of a warm and clear stream. Warpaint release sincere and bright energy, approaching their art as a gifted child approaches a trusted elder, and yet they maintain an edge of tragedy: losses not merely of love and opportunity, but of something greater, something with circumstances that surpass an individual’s emotional state.
In short, I could have listened to five times five songs for five nights in a row. I’m an instant follower of this band and cannot wait for more from them. They’re quite inspiring, a serious act that demands to be seen.
Photo of Warpaint bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg by Faye.