Long live rock, I need it every night

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tell Me Wye

Since moving to Austin I've been reminiscing about the days when DC was an influential music city. The scene isn't what it used to be and now even Baltimore makes more waves on the national scene. A number of excellent bands have come out of Maryland in recent years and perhaps my favorite is Wye Oak. When I read they were opening for Shearwater I alerted the wife to clear her calender and contact the babysitter. This was one show I did not want to miss.

Leading off the night was Hospital Ships, the one man band of Jordan Geiger. He's also the trumpet and keyboard player for Shearwater and singer/songwriter for Minus Story. He's a quadruple threat. The concept for Hospital Ships is pretty basic: Jordan on electric guitar playing earnest songs. On a few numbers a friend played the glockenspiel and on another someone played the melodica, but for the most part, it was a one man show. And quite a good show at that. Jordan looks like a smaller, indie version of Justin Timberlake. His vocals reminded me of the lead singer of Page France (one of those Maryland bands I was talking about earlier).

I was struck how, using only his voice and guitar, each song had it's own color. Not that the songs were all over the map. They weren't. The differences in each song were a series of subtleties that made for something unique. Hospital Ships were a great opener. Like an amuse-bouche for the meal that was to come next (sorry, I'm forced to watch a lot of Food Network).

Wye Oak are Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack. Once known as Monarch they switched names when they signed to Merge Records. Proud of their roots they named themselves after the honorary state tree of Maryland (roots! get it? Ah, never mind). Wye Oak is not a species, it was an actual tree, 460 years old when it was destroyed during a thunderstorm. Thus concludes today's history lesson...

The Wye Oak, before it's demiseWye Oak's MySpace page declares "we don't play acoustic music" and they reinforced that on Thursday. Looking at them you might expect a serene and polite guy/girl duo. Not so. Their performance was stripped down and a bit rough (in a good way). It sounds corny but they were there to rock.

They opened with "Please Concrete", which violates one of PostRock's Rules of the Road: Do not open with the first song from your most recent album. However, Wye Oak was opening for Shearwater so they can claim the exception: "If you're an opening act, this is more acceptable. There's more of a need to put your best foot forward to win over a crowd that's not there to see you, so go with what works." Plus, it's one of my favorite songs so I didn't mind hearing it early in the set.

As the set progressed, two things really stood out for me: Andy on the drums and Jenn's voice. Andy handles the entire rhythm section playing the drums with his feet and right hand while he plays the keyboards/sampler with his left. Each limb was moving in a separate rhythm. He wasn't just tapping away, he bashed the hell out of drums. Just as powerful and impressive as Andy's juggling act was Jenn's singing voice. In fact, it may be the best asset they have. Her voice reminded me of Cat Power. She sings with conviction - like Patsy Cline - and it adds grit and realness to the songs.

Verdict: I like this band. A lot. If Children is one of my most listened to albums of this year. While their live performance was different than the album, I enjoyed it just as much. There's a bit of weirdness that I can't quite explain. At times, the band is gentle and disarming and other times they are raw and messy. Sometimes it all happens within one song. That's not an easy feat to pull off.

Do yourself a favor: buy this album

Addendum: Here are some of the rejected titles for this review. Potsy gets credit for most of these:

Wye Oak? Why Not.
Wye Oak: No Joke
Wye (not) Oak?
Who, What, Where, Wye Oak
Oak is it! (Coke reference)
Have an Oak and a Smile (same as above)

And my personal favorite:

Wye Oak We Get Drunk and Screw. This would have required too much detail on how my wife and I spent the rest of our evening.

Had they sucked I could have gone with:

Wye Choke
Charm City Fakes (a play on Charm City Cakes, a Food Network show based in Baltimore)

If you think of any others we missed, leave them in the comments section.


Potsy said...

Wye Oak opened for These United States on the Black Cat's Back Stage in April. There were really good that night too. They jumped in to perform with TUS during the later set.

Nice choice with the headline. Subtle. WOWGDAS would've gotten everyone's attention though.

Jumbo Slice said...

Yeah, WOWGDAS wouldn't have really fit w/ the review so I went low key.

Wye Oak and These United States - that's a good lineup. Most of the people at this show were there for Shearwater but I'm not their biggest fan. The music is good but the falsetto singing isn't my thing.

Jimbromski said...

"I was struck how, using only his voice and guitar, each song had it's own color."

reminds me of this------------->

"My personal acting technique is working with color. Imagining, then finding the emotional vibrational mood connected to the color. See, if you look through my scripts, you see that all my lines have a special color. So, I don't memorize language, I memorize colors. This way I can go through red, yellow, green, blue, and you have a full palette of emotions."

bonus points if you can name who said it

Jumbo Slice said...

I'll go with the greatest actor of our generation: Tommy Wiseau.

Jumbo Slice said...

I waited but finally had to Google the answer: Cosmo Kramer.

Jumbo Slice said...

I'm suprised Jimbromski didn't chime in w/ any punny titles.

Jimbromski said...

Your answer is correct

Sacklunch guessed "Seinfeld" but sent the answer via e-mail so he does not get the prize. I repeat, he does not get the prize.