By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Songwriter Cory Hanson’s rising psychedelic rock outfit Wand visits its stronghold of Bay Area fans Saturday, playing songs from across the band’s career at the Chapel in San Francisco.
Though arguably not quite as prolific as his fellow Los Angeles psych merchants (and former Bay Area residents) Ty Segall and John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees, Hanson and company have released an impressive string of five albums since first coming together in 2013. Guitarist and vocalist Hanson got his start playing in the band Thief with high school friend Chad Ubovich, a future Segall collaborator who leads his own band Meatbodies in addition to playing bass in Segall’s power trio Fuzz.
While Ubovich has dismissed Thief as “a pretty boy band…trying to be Radiohead,” the experience started Hanson down a stead path of playing music. He would work with another Segall collaborator in Mikal Cronin as well as playing stints with SoCal punk band togetherPangea and Ubovich’s band the Meatbodies before striking out on his own. After recording demos of songs that would make up the first Wand album, Hanson convened the first version of the group with art school friends Lee Landey (bass) and Evan Burrows (drums). The band would eventually expand to a quartet with second guitarist Daniel Martens.
Released on Segall’s Drag City imprint God? Records in 2014, Ganglion Reef quickly established Wand as a new force on the LA garage-psych scene with its mix of soaring melodies and sludgy guitar riffs. Their first tour opening for Segall found the band warmly embraced by a ready made audience happy to mosh to Hanson’s tuneful, fuzzed-out anthems. The band quickly followed with Golem for In the Red Records, which teamed Wand with regular producer/engineer for Thee Oh Sees Chris Woodhouse for an even heavier sound, before issuing their third more folk-pop psych effort 1000 Days within the space of just over a year.
While Hanson would take more time for the next Wand album, if anything his productivity increased. In addition to expanding the band to a quintet with guitarist Robert Cody (Martens had left the year prior) and keyboardist/vocalist Sofia Arreguin and touring extensively, Hanson also issued his first solo album — the delicate acoustic guitar and strings effort The Unborn Capitalist In Limbo that had echoes of Love’s Forever Changes and Nick Drake — and toured as a member of Ty Segall’s new band project, the Muggers.
2017 saw the release of Wand’s fourth album Plum. The accomplished tunes further distanced the group from its raw, garage-psych beginnings as they embraced an expansive chamber pop approach with more intricate vocal harmonies. During an exhaustive live schedule of shows to promote the album, the band proved it could still deliver the more sophisticated material (and older gems) without skimping on the ferocity that had marked their performances in the early days. A follow-up EP Perfume last year also showcased the broader sonic palette.
Building on that continued refinement, in 2019 Wand delivered what may be its most experimental collection of songs to date. The sprawling double LP Laughing Matter finds echoes of Radiohead, ’90s avant-pop synth group Stereolab and krautrock pioneers Can mixing with Hanson’s infectious vocal melodies and the band’s kinetic, propulsive energy. The group toured extensively to promote the album, closing out the year with a celebrated run of performances supporting Stereolab.
While the pandemic has curtailed band activity, Hanson has remained busy, releasing his second solo album Pale Horse Rider on Drag City Records. Turning away from the psychedelic chamber folk of his solo debut, the new album finds Hanson exploring a style of cosmic Americana that nods to the work of genre pioneer Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers with its wind-swept desert soundscapes and swelling pedal-steel guitar. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Hanson also launched the web series Limited Hangout on YouTube that featured surreal comedic vignettes interspersed with performances of the new songs.
Wand returns to San Francisco on Saturday, playing a full evening of music spanning the band’s entire career over the course of two sets, including some songs that the band has never played live before. Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show will provide its unique psychedelic illumination for this show at the Chapel as well as additional West Coast dates. Experimental musician and drummer Max Jaffe opens the show, performing with a duo.
Saturday, Dec. 11, 8 p.m. $18-$20