the Vic – Chicago
The job of an opening band is never a fun one; playing to a half filled venue, 90% of whom could hardly be bothered to pay attention. The other time I had caught Why?, they were opening for the Silver Jews and much of the audience had no clue who was about to take the stage. The intensity that they bring live is something that will always win fans. Tonight, they chose to open with the melancholy “Fall Saddles”, a song built of Brian Wilson-esq harmonies amidst a dark mash-up of jazz drumming and drum loops. They followed with “Crushed Bones,” which highlights the dexterous drumming of Josiah Wolf which adds a beautifully spastic element to their live performance.
A block of new songs came next, the first of which was built around a xylophone melody that Josiah mashed out while playing drums. The new tracks showcased what makes the Why? dynamic work by utilizing a ceaselessly shifting blend of pop, experimental, and hip-hop. As a band, they have an uncanny feel for knowing exactly when to jump from genre to genre to keep the songs at their most interesting. Though, if Elephant Eyelash is any indication in terms of production the songs will most likely come out different and far more layered than presented live. They seemed to gain energy after pushing through the block of new material, moving into “Yo Yo Bye Bye,” which is a good look at how they can reinterpret their work in a live context: stripped to the barest drums, handclaps and keyboards, until it rose to a frenetic emotional peak punctuated by more spastic drumming.
At the request of an audience member, they dipped into a pair of tracks from Hymie’s Basement, a side project that Yoni did with Andrew Broder of Fog. There’s a different feel to these songs, the lyrics more concerned with the world around than Yoni’s internal conflict. They still retain the dramatic build, but are consistently darker than his other work. The songs started slowly as vocal duet between Yoni and Josiah, ending with a strong peak of keyboards, drums, and Yoni frantically rapping while balanced on one foot.
The crowd showed a big recognition for “Gemini Song,” one of the most straight forward and solid pop songs in their catalog. As the set wound down, they moved into “Light Leaves” a dark meditation on mortality that is one of the strongest songs off their 2005 album. This flowed seamlessly into the more aggressive “Me and the Pea Coat” as a set closer. The track, from a 2003 side project with cLOUDDEAD collaborator Dose One stood out with its angry, almost heavy peak that made me hope that he brings this feel to the new material when it is finally recorded.
While the crowd seemed a bit detached, I can imagine that many of the people there were experiencing Why? for the first time. That’s the burden of being the opening act, you’re there to show people something new and win them over. Despite the fact that much of Why?’s music is a challenging mash of genres I could tell that they came away from the evening with a few new fans.