I saw Loveless for the first time at the Lizard Lounge, a small basement club near Harvard Square. The Lizard's an intimate, no-frills place, a room with a bar but no stage, nothing to mark out a border between the performers and the audience.
What a thrill to come across a band like Loveless in a space like that. Midway through the first song -- it was "Go," the infectious opening track on the band's new CD, Gift to the World --I felt like I'd been transported back to some dimly remembered suburban garage, where kids I knew were rocking out for their friends, and I was drinking a beer and grinning at anyone who caught my eye, happy just to be there, included in the charmed circle created by the music blasting out of the amplifiers, connecting everyone to everyone else. This feeling of privilege and discovery intensified with each subsequent song -- "Stick to the Girl," "This is a Way," the haunting, "You Wore Me Out," -- all of which, in that uncanny way that the best pop songs have, seemed oddly familiar even though I was hearing them for the first time.
Loveless has a distinctive sound, a dynamic blend of power and delicacy, sweet swooning melodies floating over big crunching guitars and a propulsive rhythm section, Stone Age rock leavened by a hint of Britpop. As I discovered that night at the Lizard, Loveless has pulled off the neat trick of making music that somehow manages to feel intimate and arena-sized at the same time. Dave Wanamaker, who wrote and sings all the songs on Gift to the World, traces the band's roots back to the radio stations he listened to as a kid growing up on Long Island.
"There were basically two stations," he remembers. "One was classic rock -- Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, The Beatles, The Stones -- and the other played this dark British New Wave-Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Jesus and Mary Chain, U2. Loveless combines both elements. The songs have a real rock side, but they also have this sad, pretty, melodic side."
Wanamaker started Loveless in 2001, teaming up with bassist Pete Armata (the two played together in Expanding Man, a well-regarded hard rock band of the '90s). Next they added Jen Trynin on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, and rounded out the lineup with Tom Polce (Letters to Cleo) on drums.
At first glance, you might be tempted to think you see the two sides of Loveless incarnated by the band's two guitarists. Frontman Wanamaker is a charismatic figure on stage, a striking, physically imposing guy with real rock star swagger. Next to him, Trynin seems waifish and reserved, even in her camouflage miniskirt and platform boots, the epitome of the sensitive indie rock chick. Her vocals have a whispery, sometimes fragile quality that softens the edges of Wanamaker's more aggressive delivery.
But merely pointing out this simple masculine/feminine dichotomy doesn't do justice to either Wanamaker or Trynin, or to the complex chemistry of Loveless. For all of Wanamaker's guitar heroics and hard-rocking pedigree, he turns out to be the real romantic visionary behind Loveless, a male lyricist unafraid to explore his own physical and emotional vulnerability in heartfelt songs like "Beautiful" and "Gift to the World."
"It's only after you've gone through something yourself that you can write honestly about it," he explains. "And by keeping songs honest and simple, people can identify with them much more strongly. To me, a song is better when someone can make that kind of connection. "
While a number of songs touch on potentially melancholy subjects like romance gone south ("Darling Would You"), suicide ("You Wore Me Out"), and depression ("This is a Way"), the darkness in some of Loveless's songs never becomes oppressive. Throughout the record, Wanamaker repeatedly invokes music as an antidote to despair -- "a way to fight it off," as he sings at one point-and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
"Everybody has something that they'll turn to that'll make them forget the bad things," says Wanamaker. "For me, the thing I had to turn to was playing guitar and writing songs."
If Wanamaker's emotionally honest songwriting seems at odds with his hard-rocking persona, Trynin, on the other hand, quickly reveals herself to be tougher, funnier, and way more outspoken than she appears onstage. These aspects of her personality are reflected in her rhythm guitar work with Loveless, which is jagged and gutsy, anything but ladylike.
"Jen is the perfect guitar player for this band," Wanamaker says. "She's loose and intuitive, kinda like Keith Richards. She keeps things from getting too clean and precise."
To add a final twist, Trynin and Wanamaker have traded places in Loveless. Trynin, a critically acclaimed solo artist in the '90's -- she released two solo albums on Warner Brothers, an experience she's currently writing a book about-has traded in her frontwoman status to join Loveless after a short hiatus from the music business. She seems happy to remain in the background as Wanamaker steps into the spotlight for the first time in his career, fronting a stellar band that embodies his own musical vision and takes full advantage of his formidable array of talents.
"I cover my face as a gift to the world," Wanamaker sings on the title song of the new CD. But he's revealing himself at the same time, offering the world a different sort of gift, a record of real power and unexpected beauty, by one of the best rock bands I've heard in a long time.
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