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Wells Fargo and The Primacy of Gut Feelings

On June 8, 2016

by Rebecca Haithcoat

It starts somewhere below my belly button. Almost immediately—say, oh, five seconds—it begins pinballing from hip to hip so that they keep time like a metronome. But when that riff starts jangling? It sets off a frenzy, shaking up my insides until they’re fizzy. If I were grading this groove, “Coming Home,” reminiscent of Bowie’s “Fame,” would be a teacher’s pet.

The name “Wells Fargo” unfortunately brings to mind boring, balding middle-ages dudes whose starched button-ups strain to contain their bellies, but the Zimbabwean band that made the songs on Watch Out! couldn’t be less like that stuffy image. This Wells Fargo was psychedelic without doing hard drugs, revolutionary without being abrasive and funky while facing down racism, police brutality and informants. Strip all that away, however, and their appeal is simple: They make you dance. They make you feel.

You feel this music before you listen to the lyrics or how the instruments come together and go their separate ways, which is exactly the way I always want to experience music. I want to absorb it first. We love music for the feeling it gives us, the way it connects us regardless of the language we speak, the color of our skin, how rich or how busted we are. It has the power to make me grab your hand and pull you to the dance floor—quite literally, to unite us.

Even if you flip the process, you can only intellectualize music so much before your heart shuts down your head and insists you simply feel. Sure, we can talk about how the electric solo in “Watch Out” feels a little unhinged, how the song builds and roils like clouds coming in before a storm. Big storm a’comin. Hold on. Because if you don’t, you might just get washed away on the feelings.

Turn it up.

There’s nothing quiet or complacent about this music. It’s rollin’, boy, and you can roll along or get left behind. George’s voice is forceful, urgent. When the wah-wah pedal suddenly enters, all shadows and shimmers and echoes, it evokes memories you thought you’d forgotten, or maybe wish you could. I keep turning it up. When you don’t have anything—anything!—you have music, and it can envelop you as warmly as a blanket. It  does just as much to ward off the cold.

“The Crowd’s” opening riff pricks something sad in my heart, even though the progression is sort of sunshine-y. I remember reading once about the saddest note, or key change, how slipping an E or B flat, maybe, into a piece would actually pluck heartstrings near universally. The way Wells Fargo’s voices join and ring out sounds so honest. And on the fourth listen, I hear the lyrics after that groovy little solo: “They all want to love you, they all want to touch you / I don’t want to share you, I don’t want to lose you.” Of course this song sends a twinge through me.  

Strutting in as light refracts off a disco ball and shatters on the floor, “Bump Bump Babe” is so familiar to me, a sample used in a rap song, most likely. Wells Fargo just continuously makes it funky. And everything is so warm—analog just puts you right in the room with them.

Oh yes, this is the way to win her back. Fuck a sappy love song. Play her music she can dance to. That’s the way to her heart. “I still love you! You can bend me, shake me, anyway you want.” If only more people would take it to the dance floor and figure it out there. Only a tight band can be this loose.

What’s different about Watch Out! is that you know there’s more beneath the music, a message, some sort of call to action, the pleading here, the little break in a voice there. The very fact that they’re there is meaningful. There is rebellion in simply being.

Sometimes I feel like you can give your pain to music. How many times have you cried to a song, only to feel so much better when it was done? We give it our pain and it always accepts it. Maybe that’s why songs seem to spill over with heartache.

“This time tomorrow, I’ll be gone.”

There’s a relentlessness to Well’s Fargo. A pushing forward, a refusal to give up or go back. Carry on, carry on.

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