Though there’s much one can often glean from seeing a young band at their first show back from their first tour, I wouldn’t have anticipated the strides Donovan Wolfington has managed to make in a mere matter of days, the band’s short tour with pals ArchAnimals taking them only as far as San Antonio. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that the golden era-harkening emo five-piece I saw at Siberia on Thursday evening is a unit markedly different than the one that has been performing in and around New Orleans for the previous six months.
A tightening of the proverbial screws is only natural when a band begins to hit its collaborative stride, and with Chris Littlejohn’s ever-condensing percussion and the increasingly art punk-tinged lead guitar work of Matthew Seferian, D-Wolf has certainly begun to arrive. But that tightening has also drastically changed the sound and feel of emo-infused indie rock that the band has made its bread and butter. Where you could once hear a group of musicians whose creative ingredients may be just a little too varied for their own broth (a penchant for dissonant noise and guttural screams and shouts that often left little room for either Savannah Saxton’s peripheral synth and keyboard offerings or the general glaze of good-natured youth that endearingly hangs on each member’s face), it’s now all there in crystal vision — Christian Baraks dances around like a goofball while hitting every bass note with precision; Saxton is a demure counterbalance but no less obviously a key presence in D-Wolf’s blithe yet intensely heavy mis-en-scene; and at this point singer Neil Berthier could hit notes at will, thought he doesn’t necessarily try, since the charm lies in how arbitrary his delivery seems.
At the very least, this is a band whose desire to maintain their reverence for a decidedly rigid set of genre standards (after all, there isn’t a whole lot that technically separates Braid from Story of the Year, but the difference between the two is mind-bogglingly vast) has begun to intersect with their real-world personal chemistry on stage. But oddly enough, as Donovan Wolfington come closer to reaching the Kinsella bros. paradigm of “good emo” (a la the high-minded Joan of Arc), they seem to be progressively growing distant from any other band with the same modus operendi. Philadelphia’s Algernon/Snowing/1994 collectivists having made “rock n’ roll as fuck” their decided emo personage, the members of D-Wolf seem bent on a different path altogether, approaching emocore from a new angle, if from any angle at all. In the same way that the beloved Ted Leo and the Pharmacists arguably exist for no other reason than to be a totally kick-ass band in the sea of superficial attention-seeking indies and hyper-serious artistes, Wolfington don’t seem overly concerned with selling themselves short stylistically: whether it’s emo, indie or punk, it’s all rock and roll, which is all that really matters if you’ve hit your live stride. Emo’s often-alienating austerity be damned, a Donovan Wolfington live show is currently nothing short of spectacular fun – a kick-ass band just when New Orleans needs one.