Finn Wolfhard pops his head around a black curtain hanging at the back of Rough Trade’s stage and all hell breaks lose. The Brooklyn venue is suddenly awash with the kind of piercing screams you’d associate with far bigger spaces and bands, while the light from phones ready to snap and story could practically light the room. When Calpurnia – the band Finn fronts – walk on stage, things only get louder and brighter.
Tonight is the Vancouver four-piece’s first show in New York, and what you might call their first big gig, following a handful of shows in their native Canada, and an appearance at the Sweet Relief benefit in LA last year. From the very start, things are completely at odds with what most bands of Calpurnia’s level would be on the receiving end of – there are fans in the crowd with big handmade signs, for example – but they seem completely unfazed by the reaction.
“Alright, alright,” says Finn, unperturbed by the commotion in front of him. “Let’s everyone take a deep breath and compose yourselves, and just chill.” The screams subside for a little bit, but peak again every time he speaks, or anything of note happens in the songs. In the case of the opener – possibly called ‘Louis’ – that’s fairly often. It begins with bassist Jack Anderson playing the claves before jumping on his main instrument to beef up the lilting, ever-so-slightly-country-tinged track. Other little shifts in gear throughout the rest of its run time suggest there’s more invention at play here than in your average high school garage band.
‘Wasting Time’ is more straightforward, with a hint of ’60s rock’n’roll to it. It’s also the first song that shows off guitarist Ayla Tesler-Mabe‘s soloing prowess – if you thought this band would be the Finn Wolfhard show, you’re sorely mistaken. Later, they play an unidentified original that starts off slower and moodier (“Sunshine in my way,” Finn sighs at one point in the first verse), before jumpstarting into a punchier chorus. The frontman instructs the audience to put their phones down for the next transition, in which drummer Malcolm Craig‘s strong beats smooth out into something softer and his bandmates briefly sound like they’ve entered a twinkling ’80s prom.
Calpurnia have yet to release one of their own songs, and only a fool would think they have sold a few hundred tickets on the back of some (impeccable) covers. “I get it, I was in a TV show,” Finn says at one point when the screaming starts back up, addressing his Stranger Things fame. “But guess what? I’m not in a TV show now. Not as of now.” Then its back to the business of continuing their good first impression, throwing some of those aforementioned covers into the mix.
Paying homage to their musical heroes (and giving some insight into their influences), they tear through versions of The Velvet Underground‘s ‘Here She Comes Now’, Twin Peaks‘ ‘Butterfly’, Pixies‘ ‘Where Is My Mind’, and ‘El Scorcho’ by Weezer. At the end of the latter, Finn bows down to Ayla and the band exit the stage to yet more screams. Requests for one more song are granted with the very Twin Peaks-y ‘City Boy’ – all garage-y riffs, and poppy “ba-ba-bas” – and then the group are out. There’s room for improvement, as with anyone, but Calpurnia are already impressively promising, with all signs pointing to them being very much the real deal. Surely that’s worth letting out a little scream for?