Wussy's redemption songs 

'The best band in America' returns to Little Rock.


The last time Wussy appeared in Little Rock in March, the band was playing their way home to Cincinnati from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. That same day, in a long post on the Barnes and Noble website, Robert Christgau, the longtime rock critic for the Village Voice and many other publications, proclaimed Wussy "the best band in America." The aborted show that night at Vino's was described in detail on the Times entertainment blog, Rock Candy, but in short, the band played two songs, experienced sound-system difficulties, and left the few fans who'd shown up with free T-shirts and the promise of a better return trip.

I spoke by phone with the band's co-leader Chuck Cleaver. Before forming Wussy in 2001 with Lisa Walker, Cleaver, now in his early 50s, fronted the country-rock band Ass Ponys, which was known for catchy melodies and literate, witty lyrics of hardscrabble life in contemporary rural America. Walker and Cleaver have teamed up for five albums as Wussy, most recently for 2011's "Strawberry," which Rolling Stone described as "rocking out in a frayed, mordant way that makes every stick-in-your-head chorus they share seem like a small triumph." The band plays an 18-and-older show at Stickyz Thursday, 9 p.m., $6.

Being from Little Rock, I'll start with the obvious question about the last time you were here. It was the same day Robert Christgau had proclaimed you the best band in America and that night at Vino's there were maybe five people there and Lisa punched the microphone stand and you had to abandon the set after two songs because of feedback. And I was struck by the contrast between that proclamation by Christgau and the actual performance. Did you revel in the irony or was it just a shitty gig?

A little bit of both. I really enjoy stuff like that. Each person reacts to it differently. I think that's what makes it interesting to me. A few nights ago we played in Grand Junction, Colo., and this guy had just sold his theater and so we were his last show. It was sort of a no-holds-barred, nobody-gave-a-damn sort of thing. I've always wanted to play a show where you hardly play anything at all, and I remember reading about the Jesus and Mary Chain playing like 15-minute shows and pissing people off, and The Dream Syndicate playing one song for like 25 minutes and something. So we played a four-song set and we extended "Pizza King" to like 20 minutes or something. It was phenomenal. I had the best time. Everybody was pissed. I don't think it was looked upon too favorably, but we had a great time. So you know, it took me this long in life in my, whatever you want to call it, "career" I suppose, to do something I was actually really happy about.

So you've had a good time on this tour?

Oh yeah, touring... I've never known what to think about touring. It's equal parts having the best time and the worst time, all at the same time. Again, I don't want to bitch too much but it sure was a hell of a lot easier when I was younger.

Have things changed at all with the crowds since the Christgau article?

Oh, things are changing slowly, but it's very slowly. Things have picked up somewhat. We can tell. We sell a little more merch and there's a few more people there. But with this tour, we're going to places we've never been before. We played in Spokane [Wash.] and there were two people there, but those two people were fans. And one had a Wussy shirt on and they requested songs and we played for them and we had a really good time. The bar owners were nice. The guy at the door said he wasn't even going to stick around, but after he heard the first couple songs he stayed for the whole thing. So it was alright. You just have to kind of take it where you can get it.



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More by Jay Jennings

  • Wussy is the Charles Portis of bands (when the mic works)

    Listening to someone go on about a favorite band can try patience and perhaps even end friendships. At its mildest, the enthusiasm is charming, indulged as a likeable, eccentric tic, the stuff that makes us who we are. Left to metastasize, it's Ron Paul on the Fed, and at its worst, waterboarding.
    • Mar 19, 2012
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