Google’s “people also ask” feature is always a useful insight into public opinion. Some of the questions asked about the rapidly ascending Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg are easily answered. “What does Wet Leg mean in slang?” Nothing. “Is Wet Leg a couple?” No. Others require some explanation: “Why is Wet Leg so popular?” and, best of all, “What’s up with Wet Leg?”
The tale of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers is the most cheering pop story of the year. They formed a band three years ago in merry desperation after their previous, separate efforts at breaking into music had failed, only for their debut single, the rampaging, absurd Chaise Longue, to become a lightning-in-a-bottle hit beloved by Iggy Pop and Dave Grohl. (Barack Obama favors the bad-party anthem Angelica.) Their debut album went to No 1 and recently earned them five Grammy nominations. Next summer they will support Pulp at Finsbury Park and Harry Styles at Wembley Stadium. The 2,300-capacity Forum must have been booked before everything kicked off but they’ve wisely decided to stick with the smaller venues while they still can.
John Irving once said of Kurt Vonnegut that it’s not easy to be that easy to read. Similarly, it’s harder than it looks to make relatable indie rock – witty scenes from everyday life set to noisy melodies – with such irresistible vim. Each song is expertly engineered to deliver multiple hits of pleasure, half of which derive from Teasdale’s ability to twist a syllable just so. Her playfully charismatic delivery makes each song feel as if you’re hearing a riotous anecdote from a good friend. “Happy Wednesday,” says Teasdale, who appears to be dressed as a dairy farmer in a long skirt and headscarf. “Otherwise known as little Saturday.”
Wet Leg always manage to project fun, even though their lyrics often speak of frustration, boredom, ghastly boyfriends and wasted time. “And now I’m almost 28 / Still getting off my stupid face,” Teasdale laments on the shaggy, wistful I Don’t Wanna Go Out but it doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world. With three additional band members, they make a terrible racket. Their brisk, lean set – one hour, no encores – features almost the entire album plus two unreleased songs. I Want to Be Abducted (By a UFO) is as daft as the Ramonesy title implies, while the eerie ballad Obvious has a touch of Goldfrapp, theremin and all. They can spring a surprise. While Elastica and Courtney Barnett are no-brainer reference points for sardonic punk-pop, it’s striking tonight how much the first half of Too Late Now’s disaffected internal monologue resembles the Sugarcubes and how many songs have the crunchy weight of grunge. With a tendency to zig when you expect them to zag, Wet Leg have plenty of places to go when the next album rolls around.
Already they’re in a position to end with four gigantic songs that turn the Forum into a grinning, pogoing mass. The scorched-earth break-up song Ur Mum consists of nothing but hooks and provides the night’s big set piece. When the music stops for the crowd to unleash their “longest and loudest scream”, there’s a full 30 seconds before it slams back in. It’s cathartic, ecstatic and ridiculous all at once. They lean into the brilliant silliness of Chaise Longue by reappearing in black academic gowns and mortarboards. A snowstorm of confetti engulfs a sudden horde of dancers dressed as characters from their videos, including employees of the aforementioned dairy farm, before the song climaxes with a group hug and a long, reverberating guitar drone.
When Chaise Longue came out, skeptics wondered if Wet Leg would be more than a lightweight novelty, as if this much wit and eccentricity were suspect. They have proven that they are much more than that but that song does contain the essence of what makes them so cherishable. Music can speak to serious times but it can be no less vital when it aspires to joy and hilarity. One great pleasure tonight is seeing female friends around the venue shout lyrics at each other, like myriad mirror versions of Teasdale and Chambers. Giddy delight crackles between band and audience like electricity around a circuit. So that’s what’s up with Wet Leg.