To call Asheville, North Carolina’s Wednesday an “indie rock band” isn’t necessarily “false,” but leaves their country, shoegaze, and post-hardcore sound and influences unaccounted for. Wednesday started as a solo project of vocalist Karly Hartzman in 2017 and grew into a quintet over the last couple of years, and it’s here you get the country twang, heavy riffs, and walls-of-sound that make Wednesday something more than just an indie rock band. The release of 2023’s Rat Saw God on Dead Oceans Records is the combination of these seemingly disparate components coming together. And of course, there is Hartzman’s lyricism. Rat Saw God sees Hartzman singing (and screaming) about her life in the American south, drugs, God, the mafia, Richard Brautigan poems, old buildings, and Saint Augustine’s confessions. In support of this album, Wednesday set out on a U.S. tour at the beginning of this year, with the penultimate show at the 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia.

The Wednesday show last Friday (haha) was a sold out show. Hartzman was joined with her bandmates Xandy Chelmis on lap steel, Alan Miller on drums, Ethan Baechtold on bass, and Jake Lenderman on guitar, with New York City’s Hotline TNT opening. Hotline TNT’s set was a whirlwind of fast and loud alt-rock, and Hartzman joined them for “Had 2 Try,” much to the excitement of the crowd. Afterwards, Wednesday opened with a slow cover of Edie Brickell & New Bohemians’ “Ghost of a Dog,” followed by the opener to Rat Saw God, “Hot Rotten Grass Smell.”

Hotline TNT performing with Karly Hartzman (picture by Mary Beth Bryan)

Wednesday’s set consisted mostly of songs off of Rat Saw God, with a couple of earlier songs like “Twin Plagues” and “Cody’s Only” thrown in. They also included a handful of new, unreleased songs, and the crowd seemed to enjoy those as much as their released material. I appreciated their performance of “Formula One,” a softer track from Rat Saw God. This highlighted Xandy’s steel playing. With outstanding inflections and a more dynamic rendition than what appears on the album, Xandy made seeing this live feel extra special.

One thing Wednesday does in their music a lot is tempo changes. “Turkey Vultures,” “Got Shocked,” and one of the unreleased songs all include this. It’s one thing to have that recorded, but Wednesday killed it live. At no point were these shifts uneven or disjointed—a testament to the musicianship of the band. 

At one point, Karly thanked the crowd for being so animated. She said, “We stopped doing this part-way through the tour. But we’ll do it tonight—you’ve earned it.” Then she motioned for the crowd to split in half, grabbed the mic from her stand, and got into the crowd to perform a cover of Gary Stewart’s “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin Double).” There was so much energy in the room during this performance with everyone screaming the lyrics as Hartzman moved through the crowd, and I consider this a high point of the concert. Speaking of the crowd, I have never been to a show at the 40 Watt with this many people and with this much energy. It felt like everyone knew every line to every song. The floor was packed with excited fans, moshing and jumping throughout the night. On this evening, the crowd was just as important as Wednesday’s performance.

The highlight of this was when Wednesday played “Bull Believer,” their eight and a half minute long song. For their most aggressive song of the setlist, the crowd matched the energy perfectly. Just after the halfway point, when the music slowed to a stop, Hartzman directed the crowd to open up the floor for a pit. People were dancing in the negative space, doing cartwheels and the worm. As Hartzman started to sing the refrain, “Finish him,” the crowd started to move more and more, revolving around the pit. The rest of her band came in with the force of a hurricane and the center part of the crowd collapsed in on itself to Wednesday’s explosion of noise-rock and Hartzman’s screams.

Karly Hartzman of Wednesday (picture by Mary Beth Bryan)

But this is an Athens show, so that’s obviously not the end of it. The concert actually ended with Wednesday covering Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” joined by Patterson Hood of The Drive-By Truckers. To call this “cool” would be an understatement. The Athens crowd was beyond excited about this. The new, exciting band from North Carolina playing with a fellow alternative-country-rock band from a generation prior (whom Wednesday references in their music) in such a historic venue was a perfect way for the night to end.

Patterson Hood performing “Rockin’ in the Free World,” with Wednesday (picture by Joseph Mazzola)

The Wednesday Friday show (haha) was one of those rare concerts that answers the question “what can live music do?” That night brought together so many different people, histories, and sounds together, and I kept thinking, “I love this town” over and over after the concert ended.

– Joseph Mazzola

Cover photo by Mary Beth Bryan