Don’t you just love it when you go to a gig, and the support act that you’ve never heard of before turns out to be one of your favourite bands?
This author first saw Inthewhale at Neumos in Seattle in the summer of 2016, supporting Electric Six. At that point, the band, who comprise Nate Valdez on guitar/vocals and Eric Riley on drums/vocals, were playing an upbeat brand of blues-tinged garage rock, singing about girls, booze, and selling your soul to the devil. You know, standard rock band stuff.
In the years since that show, though, the band has evolved considerably. Their sound has become more hard-edged, bringing in grunge and metal elements, and the subject matter has become darker and more challenging. In the process, they have become one of the most impressive acts to emerge from the US scene in quite some time.
Recent EP, Vanishing Point, is certainly their most intense moment to date. Among other topics, it deals with depression and suicide (‘Smoke Break‘), pharmaceutical addiction (‘Drug Dealer‘), and gentrification of urban areas (‘Antlion‘). The songs were written before the pandemic, but there can’t have been many records released in 2021 that capture the challenges of the last two years quite so perfectly.
Already with a large following in their native Colorado, and a growing fanbase across the US, this show at Thekla is part of their first tour of the UK, and also their first ever on a boat. “In thirty years time, maybe we’ll be playing cover versions on cruise ships, but for now, this is quite exciting,” quips Riley.
It takes about 0.23 seconds of set opener ‘Crosses‘ for it to become clear that Inthewhale are a very different beast now to what they were in 2016. Valdez absolutely launches into the throaty vocals, screaming at the ceiling, while Riley pounds the drumbeat. Is the boat shaking? It feels like it’s shaking.
The crowd are quickly engaged into the set. ‘Deep End’ brings some ferocious metal riffage, and the announcement of a song about Jeffrey Dahmer (‘Jeffrey’) elicits an excited response. “Why does that always get a cheer?” Riley asks. The song, an exploration of someone struggling hard to fit in, is certainly worthy of it though.
One of the most impressive aspects of Inthewhale’s music is how they draw from numerous musical styles, but very much have a sound of their own. Keen listeners tonight will have picked up elements of Helmet, Nirvana and Red Fang, but ITW don’t really sound like any of those bands. Their work has a coherent direction all of its own. ‘Drug Dealer’ is perhaps the best example of this, pulling on a Deftones-style riff in a very creative way.
The highlight of tonight’s show, though, as it was on Vanishing Point, is ‘Smoke Break‘. The song was released back in May to coincide with mental health awareness month, and is powerful and poignant. It opens with doomy guitar and tearful vocals, reminiscent of ‘Something in the Way‘, before bursting into an explosive, overdriven chorus, with Valdez howling “God’s out getting smokes, and left us all alone“. It is absolutely one of the best tracks of 2021, and the delivery tonight is incredible.
The long line at the merch stand at the end of the show indicates that a lot of people are impressed. It’s no surprise. This is a band that is primed to go to the next level, and they are just MADE for the UK market too. Fans of IDLES, Slaves and Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes will find plenty to enjoy here. Their days being the support band that nobody has heard of may soon be behind them.