“She’s so cute,” a concertgoer remarked from the buzzing crowd.
Standing center stage with her maroon leather jacket and glossy black hair, Wallice excitedly shouted out her cousins, attempting to make out their faces in the audience. As she spoke, her voice delicately lilted through the upper octaves, her speech ringing like a song.
Opening for Still Woozy’s If This Isn’t Nice Tour, Wallice Hana Watanabe (who performs mononymously as Wallice) swiftly and skillfully sculpts her space in the indie rock scene. Her aesthetic thrives on printed cowboy hats and DIY, feeding into and off of the artistic impulses of Generation Z. Despite her enviable style and “cute” demeanor, her music has an edge. If her performance at The Warfield March 7 is any indication, she certainly knows how to pack a punch.
Flanked by two guitarists and a drummer, Wallice began her set at the center of the stage, singing into the mic with her signature piercing belt. Though this stand and deliver approach was well-suited for the easygoing accompaniment of “Off the Rails,” it didn’t last for long. As the performance progressed, she moved more freely around the stage, dancing with her bandmates and swinging out her arms as she reached for the higher notes.
Riding off the release of her debut EP Off the Rails, Wallice dedicated the beginning of her set to her magnetizing brand of indie pop. Each song underscored 20-something dissatisfaction through mellow instrumentals and incisive lyricism. “In my right mind almost half of the time,” she sang during “Punching Bag.” Though self-deprecation abounded, she remained confident, sharing truth to lived experience with refreshing candor.
Throughout the night, Wallice proved herself to be a natural performer. On the delightfully critical “Hey Michael,” she sketched an all-too-familiar encounter with a “Pulp Fiction”-loving male manipulator. As she furrowed her eyebrows and sarcastically nodded her head, one could imagine the archetype materializing before her eyes, braced for a verbal blow.
In her unreleased songs from her upcoming EP, Wallice wandered deeper into the territory of alternative rock. The electric guitar took a central role, with Wallice’s boyfriend Callaghan Kevany delivering a beautifully uninhibited solo during the dark, deeply capitalistic “Rich Wallice.” On “John Wayne,” she artfully referenced her cowboy aesthetic and sang about being “unhinged.” All the while, she danced around and conquered the stage, engaging the audience with her infectious enthusiasm.
The highlight of the night, however, came during her cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.” Her voice may be higher than that of the late Kurt Cobain, but that didn’t prevent her from sinking deep into the discontent. “Hey!” Pause. “Wait!” she exclaimed, throwing her head backward as red lights spilled over into the crowd. Her stage presence dramatically shifted from the opening number, but the change felt natural — a testament to her range as an artist and performer.
Between songs, Wallice would engage in friendly banter with her band and share personal anecdotes with the audience. She even revealed that, in 2018, she had direct messaged Still Woozy asking to collaborate. When he responded and asked to see some of her work, she had nothing to share. While nothing came out of this initial interaction, somewhere down the line, things snapped into place. As she stood in front of The Warfield crowd, one could not help but feel that she was truly where she was meant to be.
Though Wallice has earned her well-deserved place in the indie rock scene, her performance in San Francisco affirmed that she is only getting started. Whether she is cultivating irresistible indie pop or embracing ’90s grunge, she has proven herself to be a multifaceted force to be reckoned with. More than just a “cute” aesthetic with an attractive sound, Wallice has a lot to say. She can be a “punching bag,” but don’t be fooled — she’s more than capable of punching back.
Lauren Harvey covers music. Contact her at [email protected].