Wheel Workers Rock With a Message at 'Citizens' Release Party

The Wheel Workers, New York City Queens, Oil Boom
May 22, 2015

While it’s true that The Wheel Workers have received lots of attention ‘round these parts in the past few months, this quintet deserves it. It’s hard not to shake your ass and your fist to such catchy political pop-rock. So, I jumped at the chance to cover the band’s show at Fitzgerald’s this past Friday night, as it was the official record release party commemorating the launch of Citizens.

And what an evening it was. Three great acts came together to entertain the assembled throng, and did so with aplomb, despite the genre differences between the bands. Just chalk it up as further proof that local promoters need to be more ambitious with the lineups they’re creating.

Oil Boom got the night crankin’ with its brand of hard-driving blues-rock. Proving there are a few good things that call Dallas home, this energetic trio delivered a welcome take on the blues that was awash in grit, swagger and heart. Mixing a healthy portion of Delta, Chicago and boogie influences, the nine-song set should have sent more people dancing, but I’m not sure your average indie-rock concert attendee knows what to do in those situations. Fans of Jack White’s solo material and early Black Keys should really check them out.

The peppy indie-pop of New York City Queens hit the stage next. Fans of the band pushed up to the stage and were rewarded by the announcement that the night would feature lots of new material from an upcoming 2015 release. While fleshing out new songs in a live environment can prove difficult for some burgeoning acts, this quintet seemed pretty in sync — which bodes well for the eventual development of the songs in the studio. Danceable indie-pop met with no-frills post-punk and lovely New Wave vocals to pleasant results, and everyone popped with the arrival of “Roman Candle” at the end of the eight-song set.

But to be honest, most of us were here to see The Wheel Workers wow our ears and stimulate our brains. Over the course of 15 songs (including a two-song encore), the band performed Citizens in its entirety, while also gracing us with stellar tracks from its first two records. With a different topical video for each song of the set, prog-rock sensibilities, pop arrangements and left-leaning sociopolitical commentary combined for a heady brew that kept the crowd fully engaged.

And yet this was no political rally. Top tracks like “Yodel,” “Whole Other World,” “Wage Slaves,” “Citizen Incorporated,” “Chemicals” and “Compromise” pulsed with peppy energy and genuine rock passion. Sure, leader Steven Higgenbotham and crew didn’t shy away form sharing their political leanings with people, but they did so by incorporating zippy guitar licks, stellar background harmonies and rich melodic progressions performed upon keyboards, synths and Moog.

Besides, there’s nothing wrong with listening to crisp pop music that just happens to contain critiques of capitalism, economic injustice and American consumerism.

If you wanted a great rock show, you got one. If you wanted to learn a little bit while you listened to good music, you got your chance as well. Props to the Wheel Workers for putting the blues of Oil Boom and the indie-pop of New York City Queens on the same stage as their agitprop rock. And congratulations on the release of Citizens — it’s a really good record.

Personal Bias: I describe myself as a “little-s socialist,” so I tend to agree with the lyrical leanings of the Wheel Workers. I also like good pop music, so this show was a win-win.

The Crowd: While pretty diverse in terms of age range and even split in terms of men and women, the attendees were still mostly white folks. They also didn’t gab much between songs, so they win my affection in that respect.

Overheard In the Crowd: “I saw The Wheel Workers for the first time at The Summit earlier this month. I’m not really into their type of music typically, but they’re really good.”

Random Notebook Dump: I always like it when I see bands show up to support other bands on their nights off from playing. It shows that we have a pretty good scene these days.

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Adam P. Newton
Contact: Adam P. Newton