Truly one of the darlings of the local scene, The Smith Strand Band frontman Wil Wagner thrives on being the face of earnestness, and almost pained authenticity. This tour is promoting the album More Scared Of You than You Are Of Me, which is thought of by many as the story of Wagner’s relationship and break up with Camp Cope’s Georgia Maq. As a fan of often pretentiously too-cool-for-school rock, I have never quite understood the obsession with The Smith Street Band – but I can finally say after a mammoth hour and a half set that, I now see their true value.
The opening songs, both from the new album, show the dedication of much of the crowd who already know all the lyrics. ‘Suffer’, a slower number, is incredibly self-aware with direct lyrics which my friend (who is by a massive fan) describes as “just a straight guy singing his feelings”. Sad/angry lyrics like “you are the worst thing that happened to me” may seem a little contrived but they have power due to Wagner’s incredible performance. Although ‘A Song For You’ follows in a similar vein, it prompts more than a few guys to get up on his friend’s shoulders in the crowd to sing along.
The crowd involvement and complete embrace of Wagner’s emotional expression transform what can seem like wallowing self-indulgence into anthemic expressions of themes that obviously speak to many. Much of the crowd appears to be a similar demographic to Wagner himself; white, millennial males – there is something joyous in the belting out of these lyrics which does appear to have a wider appeal. Perhaps, it is the youthful joy of dipping your toe back into the pool of teenage angst and being able to walk away mostly unscathed, “tonight I’m getting young drunk,” cries Wagner and the crowd exuberantly.
Wagner as a person is so relatable in a way that is hard to put your finger on. As he heartfeltly gushes about dreaming of playing at the Forum and finally being here, it comes across as endearing, when from someone else it could be trite and overdone. He shares his struggles and tells the crowd that he understands them. And they believe him. It is unsurprising to anyone who knows the history of the band, as he famously gave his guitar to a member of the audience at a show the week before, that he dedicates ‘Young Drunk’ to an audience member who has been to 60 Smith Street Band shows. Perhaps one of the bands best harmonies, ‘Death To The Lads’ not only receives an enthusiastic sing-along but also reflects Wagner’s pursuit of more inclusive and supportive audiences. “No one falls down at a Smith Street Band show and doesn’t get picked back up again,” he declares. It seems like a lot of the time, that is true.
If any of the crowd weren’t smiling from the relief of emotional expression, then they are when Wagner’s Dad joins him on stage for the inevitable encore. The crescendo of sounds and emotions which had been rising in intensity throughout the set finally breaks, The Smith Street Band finishes in the way they start with the quiet yet popular ‘Run Into The World’. Not only a great finishing track but also perhaps an urging statement from a newly optimistic Wagner to his crowd of emotional followers.