Le Poisson Rouge was transported to acoustic and alternative heaven when the band Wakey! Wakey! took the stage on Thursday, Jan. 13. Touting themselves as the band from Brooklyn, lead singer Michael Grubbs plays the ideal frontman, balancing his quirkiness with comedy and frequently giving kudos to his fellow band mates. Although the members of Wakey! Wakey! change between shows, each participant still delivers the same high level of talent. For the show on Bleecker St., Cailtin Moe played the violin and Tanya Buziak provided the backing vocals as the only two women on stage.
Performing songs from their debut album Almost Everything I Wish I’ve Said The Last Time I Saw You, Wakey! Wakey! live sounds identical to their MP3s—only better. As Grubbs belted out fan favorites like “Almost Everything” and “Light Outside,” many heads bobbed throughout the crowd, feeling every note as part of some personal anthem testifying to both love and life lost.
According to the band’s website, wakeywakeymusic.com, Grubbs began scaling the piano at the young age of five with both of his parents being musical directors. He recalls homework in his childhood as a chore he would do so that he could receive the reward of playing piano for an hour. His mastery of the chords is evident in shows as he streams along the keys with passionate ease while singing his heart out. With influences from the likes of Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin and Elton John, Grubbs has been grateful for many years of experience in music.
“There’s something about translating a year’s worth of experience into ten songs and letting that tell the story,” Grubbs said on the band’s site. “I feel lucky to have the chance to do that on my own terms.”
With a scruffy beard and awkward charm almost as recognizable as his voice, Grubbs’ most endearing quality is his ability to connect with the audience and feed off of the energy of the room. As he playfully danced in his piano chair to the hip-hop beats that were thumping from the club on the second floor above, he told stories of the inspirations behind songs and even accepted a glass of whiskey from a fan, which he sipped happily throughout the show. The liquor seemed to do nothing but increase his talent and comfort on stage, as he called out the moments between fan and band when a joke would be made that only half the crowd immediately got as the other laughed several moments later. Experiences like these allowed the audience to view Grubbs as more of a person they could hang out with rather than the lead singer of a successful band.
The group’s name originated from Grubbs’ attempt to write political songs (an area he has strong opinions about but could never express in music with complete satisfaction) that failed to make an appearance in their earlier LPs War Sweaterand The Covers Album. Wakey! Wakey! caught on quickly with fans that the name became indissolvable. The band began to amass followers through Grubbs’ recurring role as a bartender on the CW11 drama One Tree Hill, where one of the band’s songs “War Sweater” was featured in a season finale. Since then, they have been on tour throughout the U.S. and Europe, currently opening for singer James Blunt.
Virgin ears and experienced veterans to the pop/indie rock scene can appreciate Wakey! Wakey!’s style of music. Although reminiscent to the sound of bands like Jack’s Mannequin and Jimmy Eat World, the heavy use of violin and piano can categorize Wakey! Wakey!’s work as classical. The harmonies created by Grubbs and Buziak’s voices are also distinctly unique. Whether craving fun melodies (as heard in songs like “Take It Like A Man,” “Twenty-Two” and “The Oh Song”) to soft ballads (like “Car Crash” and “Dance So Good”), Wakey! Wakey! is a top contender for profound music.
Its Grubbs’ ability to tell a story that ultimately makes Wakey! Wakey! hard to tear away from. Like he sings in “Almost Everything,” Grubbs subconsciously convinces his listeners to be optimistic about life, the band’s future and in some ways, music: “See it feels bad now/ but it’s gonna get better some day.”