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Wednesday is a band inextricably bound to a place and time — adolescence in the American South’s forgotten corners. And in a musical landscape where most chart-topping artists dominate via fill-in-the-blank, Mad Libs lyrics, relatable to anyone who’s lived a day as a human being, that commitment to personal narrative a good thing.

It was evident at a sold-out 9:30 Club show on Tuesday, when frontwoman Karly Hartzman appeared onstage, mullet exuding the kind of cool conferred by authenticity, and sang the vivid opening lines to her set: “Hot rotten grass smell / ‘F--- all y’all’ down the wishing well.”

Wednesday hails from Asheville, N.C., a lineage that seeps into the cracks of its shoegaze sound. The band began as Hartzman’s solo project in 2017, but for its last four albums, she’s been joined by guitarist MJ Lenderman (an indie-rock star in his own right), steel guitar player Xandy Chelmis, drummer Alan Miller and bassist Ethan Baechtold. It wasn’t until Wednesday’s latest, “Rat Saw God,” that the band, simmering throughout the pandemic, boiled over into the mainstream; the album finished on some of 2023’s most prominent year-end lists with broad critical acclaim.

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And for good reason: Hartzman’s lyrics don’t only set a Southern gothic scene in scarce words but create whole narratives of backwoods debauchery in songs whose lyrics often span just a few lines. Throughout the evening, she introduced the crowd to the duo passing time in a kiddie pool with lice in their hair; to a friend who took too much Benadryl at a high school party; to Georgie, who set fire to a cotton field with model rockets. To an anonymous “someone” who died in a Planet Fitness parking lot.

This imagery, interspersed with heavy, distorted breakdowns that sound haunted (especially with the help of Chelmis’s steel guitar) may not sound like it makes for a lighthearted show, but the moments of levity are what helped make the more serious — even devastating — climaxes feel earned. When Hartzman kicked off the second set (“We’re gonna play some country music now,” she told the crowd) with the morbidly romantic slow rocker “Chosen to Deserve,” she reprimanded a small but mighty group of mosh-pitters mid-song before giving in with a shrug: “All right, do your thing, I guess.”

Somewhat ironically, the performance was most cheerful during a twangy lament for a cheating girlfriend; Hartzman tipped across the barricade into the crowd, singing Gary Stewart’s 1975 country ballad “She’s Actin’ Single (and I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” in her signature mournful half-yodel.

On some level, that’s the crux of Hartzman’s appeal. She gives the same weight to the grotesque lyrics as she does to the airy ones as she does to the darkly funny ones; look toward standout single “Bath County” for the latter. “Every daughter of God,” she suggests in the refrain, “has a little bad luck sometimes.”

It was, Hartzman pointed out onstage, Wednesday’s fifth consecutive concert in as many days. But the band’s verve outlasted its eight-minute closer, “Bull Believer,” complete with Hartzman’s increasingly frenzied yelling that morphed from the words “finish him” to guttural screams. The crowd yelled along. Because whether Wednesday’s scenic horrors and joyful observances are relatable or nostalgic, its heavy catharsis sure is.


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