Less is more: Garage-rock duo Wahyas steal the show

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Josh Johnson and Lindsey Sprague of Wahyas prove that less is more when it comes to garage rock. (photo by Spencer KM Brown)

It’s a rare thing. Most fans know the lineup of bands for the night and trickle in long after the doors open, fully aware that the show won’t get started for at least a few hours after the official “doors open” time. Most fans only come out to see the main act for the night, sometimes consciously passing up the opening acts. This is how it goes at most shows. But Greensboro’s On Pop of the World does it a little different.

After the two touring acts loaded all of their gear on stage for soundcheck and back-lined amps and drums, Joshua Johnson and Lindsey Sprague carried their gear to the front of the stage. Ignoring the usual mess of pedalboards and expansive drum kits, it was clear the two had learned lessons of break-down and set-up from years of playing.

A lone, weathered vintage cabinet amp was positioned behind Johnson, his guitar plugged in directly. A sparkling blue floor-tom and snare drum stood raised and stationed parallel on the stage. The crowd gathered along the edges of the room, nearly full before the music began.

And without a great wall of noise or flashing lights, Johnson strummed into a gritty, blues riff, backed by a simple yet driving beat held down by Sprague. There was something primal in it. The music was stripped down to the bare, lean-muscled force that compels legs to twitch and heads to bounce. It was the dark, smooth guitar riffs and surf-rock beats, and that’s all that was needed to get the crowd dancing.

The duo contains a heavy wall of sound while using only the bare minimum of equipment. Both members of Wahyas have played with other bands in many different forms, but somehow have come to know that perhaps, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

“It’s gone under many incarnations,” drummer Lindsey Sprague said. “It began as a four piece, then a three piece. Bass players and guitarists came and went and then it was just the two of us. And I think this works the best so far.”

Wahyas are based in Greensboro, comprising guitarist Joshua Johnson of the Spinns and Paint Fumes, and former Daddy Issues guitarist Lindsey Sprague on drums. Self-described as “Johnny and June with a little less church,” the couple brings a whiskey smooth tone of gritty, blues, lo-fi rock to the stage. Johnson’s vocals blend a wild gospel tone with a vintage pop sound similar to that of early White Stripes.

The show on May 17 was already amped-up and raucous after Wahyas opening set. Touring headliners for the night comprised Atlanta garage-rock bands Paralyzer and Bad Spell.   

Garage and punk trio Bad Spell laid down a blistering set of tunes that took the show to another level of energy. Drummer Pietro Digennaro’s tightly woven beats blended with the wild riffs of Bryan Malone’s guitar in sounds that call back to the golden age of rock music. Solos called forth from dancing fingertips, sending the room into a head-banging bray of applause as the crowd grew lost in the music.

Paralyzer, friends and touring partners of Bad Spell, headlined the night, bringing a gothic crunch of heavy punk with them to the stage. And with wild vocals, thrashing drums and tight-knit melodies, the night came into full bloom.

Most clubs lack in booking and band selection, but this is where Randy Seals of On Pop of the World excels. It is truly a gift to see such structurally differing bands share the stage and somehow fit together, making the larger picture of a night of music work.

While the headlining bands brought with them a force of moving garage-rock, it was Wahyas’ opening set that was ringing in ears even long after they cleared the stage. A guitar, two drums and a perfect blend of Johnson’s vocals with the attractive, subtle harmonies of Sprague’s voice augmenting it, Wahyas proved that less is often more. It only takes a simple beat to get a crowd dancing, and Johnson and Sprague’s project shows simplicity in a time of complex, electronic, popular music. Less is more, and the Wahyas are the torchbearers for a new wave of simplicity.