by Uma Kaplan
Photos by Kellan McCarthy
I’ve personally considered Winkler to be the crown jewel of the Boston underground music scene for quite some time, and every live show of theirs I’ve seen has just further cemented this idea. While the band’s small collection of streaming-available music includes some fairly catchy songs, it doesn’t hold a candle to their live performances. These guys are high energy, charismatic, and total pros that excel under the lights. The night of December 8th at Notch Brewery in Brighton was certainly no different: Winkler totally rocked the house with their unique blend of surf rock, shoegaze, soft, indie sound.
They kicked things off with “Call It Good Times,” known for its addicting and memorable lead line and the iconic double chorus finish which ties it all together. Then they performed “Mona,” their most popular song which was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2022 Boston Music Awards. Drummer Christian Schmidt replicated the pre-recorded electric keyboard drum beat that most people might recognize from the studio version of their hit single. Vocalists Maddy Simpson and Justin Schaefers’s voices harmonized beautifully until they broke off into their separate vocal parts in the much more complex but nonetheless flawlessly executed second half of the song.
A big appeal of Winkler shows is their intimacy, and that was more apparent than ever at this show. From the band’s frontman saying “hey, check this out” before effortlessly killing a guitar solo to his playful “we all know each other, don’t we” before introducing the band, the whole event felt super personal. Next up was “Bazooka, Baby,” which has evidently matured from the bedroom demo it was back this summer to a song that impressively exhibits the individual talents of the band members. A lyric from the song best describes this performance: “straight from a daydream.” Every element of the performance perfectly encapsulated a frustratingly forbidden love in classic Romeo and Juliet fashion.
At this point into the show, I came to a realization. The set-list I had snuck a peak at while the band was finishing up their bratwurst before setting up on stage was completely different from the actual song order. It’s never a surprise for Winkler shows to take detours, and the band members’ raw musical chops and mastery of their discography accommodate for this kind of spontaneity. Although opening for larger artists is advantageous for more exposure, the shorter set time usually leaves no room for Winkler’s iconically corny banter in between songs. On this particular night, they were headlining, meaning there was no shortage of jokes. A standout moment was when Justin cut off Maddy, who was promoting the band’s social media, to point out that cellphones are called cellphones because they trap us in a cell. Justin’s stage persona of the self-described “guy who looks like he doesn’t know what a jpeg is” was more charming than it’s ever been.
The band then introduced Justin’s partner Alianora Reilly, the licensed music therapist plus Berklee alumna by day and rockstar by night who has writing credits on the song they’d soon perform next. “Hillside Home” starts off real strummy once Justin activates the envelope filter on his guitar, and it gradually builds up as he introduces new members of the band to join him until it’s a full out group jam. The funky rhythm was broken up by sporadic, groovy bass solos from Ava and electrifying lead guitar riffs from Alex, but the real star of this song was Alia’s vocals. Afterwards, for a change of pace, the band performed “Company Car,” a slower, moody ballad. Even during their slowest song, Winkler kept the crowd fully engaged with explosive, screeching cries that were full of emotion. The last song in the set was “Twin Snakes,” arguably their most musically interesting song, which featured howling vocals and bluesy hammer-ons from the two guitarists. After the ecstatic crowd demanded an encore, the band performed “Here Comes Henry,” which was full of audience participation and had everyone in the venue jumping up and down while they screamed out the hook of the song
While the band joked about the uncertainty of their future plans on stage (they said to “wait until the new year, and then wait a few more weeks!”), they have confirmed that some new music as well as a possible EP is around the corner. They promised more news early next year, possibly to draw attention to a certain holiday that would be in theme with their motto of “music made in the bedroom, for the bedroom”. For now, it’s all speculation. Whatever Winkler has planned next, you will not want to miss it. If their live performances are an indicator of anything, these guys are going to be huge one day.