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The Whigs are in control

Bob Costa | Monday, January 28, 2008

Last night, Georgia-based rock band The Whigs played on CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman.” The guest spot was well-deserved recognition for this emotive and bluesy rock trio, who came out with their second album “Mission Control” last Tuesday.

The Whigs – all in their twenties and hailing from Athens, Georgia – released their self-financed and independent album “Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip” in 2005. The band quickly gained many fans who found The Whigs’ early-Nineties rock vibe refreshing in the current rock scene. The Whigs look like they could be buddies of acoustic surfer-dude Jack Johnson, but they rock with the energy of guitar-heavy, jam-band groups such as Gov’t Mule and The Band.

Their indie release helped get The Whigs the attention of another Southern rocker, Dave Matthews, who runs ATO Records in New York. ATO re-released “Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip” in 2006 and The Whigs toured nationally, playing in the cotillion of jam-band festivals, Bonnaroo, in 2007. The Whigs spent most of 2006 and 2007 on the road winning over fans and critics with their full throttle alternative pop-rock. “Mission Control” is definitely a masterful senior thesis for these former college rockers.

Rolling Stone magazine declared the three-piece “the best unsigned band in America” a few years ago. Now that The Whigs are signed, they’ve used their new resources well on “Mission Control,” giving more resonance and subtlety to their sound on songs like “Production City” and “Sleep Sunshine.”

“Mission Control” was produced by Rob Schnapf, best known for his work with the late Elliott Smith. Although The Whigs play much harder and louder than Smith ever did, Schnapf manages to keep the band’s songwriting as the album’s central focus. It enables the lyrics to be more than just an addendum to all of the cool sonic happenings in the back of each track.

“A Thousand Wives” is a cocky track, combining smooth bass lines with lyrics full of early-twenties angst. The song twists and dives from being a mellow rocker into an uplifting anthem, never deciding what it is exactly. That’s what’s different about this album – the music may sound familiar to rock fans, but the structure of the songs is innovative and deceptive, leading the listener on and then turning him on his head.

“Like A Vibration” picks up the pace, pulsing with more heavy bass and pounding drums, bringing to mind the sound of bands like Kings of Leon, The Strokes and even hints of Tom Petty.

“I Got Ideas” is the best track on the album, combining energetic horns with Southern rock bombast, bouncing around like the Allman Brothers trying to sing a three-minute pop song.

The final and title track, “Mission Control,” is an ethereal evocation of the sound of early David Bowie and recent material by Foo Fighters. Think “Space Oddity” meets “Everlong.” Lead singer Parker Gispert told NPR he thinks of the sound of “Mission Control” as “space blues.”

That’s a pretty apt description. The music is not as esoteric and colorful as Bowie but does have the urgency and alternative-rock vibe of Pearl Jam albums like “Yield” and “Vs.”

Keep an eye out for The Whigs on their upcoming tour, since many of the tracks on “Mission Control” are just begging to be let loose live by this young Southern rock band.