Tag Archives: Why?

Got the spirit, but lose the feeling.

Falling behind here, but between the shoddy service of Time Warner Cable (NAMED AND SHAMED) and a cycle of daily recreation spiralling quickly into Dali-esque ridiculousness, I can’t really help that.

This gig, though, is the first one I’ve been to at the Williamsburg Waterfront. The Waterfront gigs seem to be Important to the People of Williamsburg in some discernable but slightly nebulous way. I gather that they were under threat from something, possibly the recession, but that they were saved. More on that later.

The line-up is amazing. Deerhoof & Xiu Xiu combined, performing Unknown Pleasures in its entirety. Why? I don’t know why. But wait, the last support was also called Why? You might know and love Why? already, but if you don’t, maybe reading me yammer incorrigibly about their live shows and their album will help. Also on the bill were Pictureplane and Fang Island.

I showed up early enough to catch the start of the show, but Pictureplane were horrifyingly bad the last time I saw them, so I got a slice of pizza and watched some of the World Cup final, which was on that day. I got into one of my favourite types of conversation with the other pizza eaters – the kind where Americans don’t know what they’re talking about regarding football and I friendlily inform them of the actual state of affairs. Examples of some claims: “that was definitely offsides” accompanied by an attempt to explain the offside rule incorrectly, when what had actually happened was a foul, and the pizza man claiming that Brazil were playing when, in fact, they were not playing.

I got to the place and sat around for a bit while Fang Island emo’d out on stage. Guess what you can’t buy at Williamsburg Waterfront? Coke. As in Coca Cola. Can’t be had. Your choices are Brooklyn Lager, water or Vitamin Water. Which is ridiculous. I got a crab juice.

Here’s where it starts getting good though.

Organ fades up with Yoni still not on the stage. He strolls out in a retro shirt and a pair of Kappa shorts with hair so short at the sides it’s essentially a mohawk, and does the Fall of Mr. Fifths, potentially my favourite ever Why? song. It’s a good start.

The rest of the set flies by. He does some Eskimo Snow stuff, and the crowd reaction is noticeably more muted, but for the most part he sticks to the Alopecia hits – no Crushed Bones or Rubber Traits, but plenty of other great songs and of course the opportunity to actually look at a man while he tells you about getting stuck into his therapist or failing to mate or taking loads of cocaine or having syphilis or weaving anger into a gadzai to bring to an alma mater’s holiday fundraiser boutique thing.

He also did the Do The Right Thing dance. Which was a highlight.

There are more highlights. The organiser/outdoor MC/shouter of the word Brooklyn emerges after Why? and thanks the corporate sponsors or whoever else needs to be thanked. Then he says this:

“People always ask me why the Senior State Senator of New York State cares so much about keeping these events at the Waterfront. You know what I tell them? It’s because the Senior State Senator of New York State is FUCKING AWESOME!”

Uh oh… they’re not going to…

And there he is, the Senior State Senator of New York State, a cleanly, white-haired Jewish-looking man in his 70s, standing on the stage about to give a speech. Bad taste in the mouth already. But wait, a challenger appears. A long-haired guy of about 25, two rows from the front:

“FREE PALESTIIIIIIIIIIINE! FREE PALESTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE! WHY ARE YOU STRANGLING A PEOPLE? FREE GAZA!”

The Senator tries to speak.
“FREE PALESTINE!”

Senator’s confused. But he’s a Senator, and the two ways to become an elected representative are being smart and knowing how to manipulate large amounts of people. So he pulls it back.

“LET’S JUST HAVE FUN!”

Crowd cheers. Guess what he shouts next. Guess.

“THIS IS BROOKLYN AT ITS BEST!”

Yeah, he shouted Brooklyn. It always works.

“THIS IS NEW YORK AT ITS BEST!”

It is pretty good actually. Free gig, great bands, Waterfront.

“LET’S FORGET ABOUT POLITICS!”

Um… if you insist, elected political representative who is clearly on the stage to remind people that he is their buddy and they should vote for him…

“ENJOY THE SHOW!”

He exits. Bizarre, bizarre stuff. Point 1: get off the stage, state senator. This is a rock show. It doesn’t even fit. Point 2: even if you want Palestine freed, maybe shout it twice or hold up a flag and refuse to cheer even when the senator shouts the word Brooklyn, but it gets a little awkward if you’re shouting over him. Luckily, Greg Saunier shows up and starts setting up his drums.

So, Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu combining their significant forces to cover Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. We know they’re friends. Greg Saunier, Deerhoof’s drummer and primary compositional genius, produced The Air Force by Xiu Xiu, and they’re both based in San Francisco. But putting them together was the best drunken idea anyone ever had. Line-up as follows:

Greg Saunier (Deerhoof) – drums
Satomi Matsuzaki (Deerhoof) – noise guitar (normally bassist/vocalist)
Ed Rodriguez (Deerhoof) – bass (normally guitarist)
John Dieterich (Deerhoof) – lead guitar
Angela Seo (Xiu Xiu) – synth, breaking glass (seriously)
Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu) – vocals

I’m sure it’s consensus knowledge that Greg Saunier is one of the best drummers around, and John Dieterich is one of the best guitarists around. And Jamie Stewart, even if camp whispering is not your bag for some reason (it should be), is a huge personality. So hopes were high.

They play the album straight through and don’t address the crowd. It’s meaty as fuck, heavier than Joy Division probably ever played it and as dark as they did too. Mosh pits form at various points, with the biggest one happening, predictably, during She’s Lost Control. Shadowplay is a facemelter. While the tempo keeps up, the crowd stay with it, and though attentions wander a little when the closer starts its dirge-like trudge, the sight of Angela Seo throwing three wine glasses at a time into a barrel and then crushing them with a large metal stick keeps me from being distracted at any rate.

It ends and I leave to try make the Roots and Talib Kweli at Prospect Park for some real Brooklyn-shouting, safe in the knowledge that I’ve seen something I would never see if I’d stayed home to work in the bookshop.

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The Year. 2. In Berlin I saw two men fuck in a dark corner of a basketball court.

2. Why? – Alopecia
Anticon
What is this album about? That’s the question that has kept me coming back to this album, something that I never thought I would like so much even when I heard it first in the shadow of a newly-wrought appreciation for oaklandazulasylum and Elephant Eyelash. On every listen, a new line stands out and seems to colour the whole differently, but then on closer inspection it all disappears, like some imagined structure in the clouds of the cover.

It’s impossible to pin down, or I find it impossible anyway. There’s so much to it. For one thing, death is unavoidable on Alopecia, no matter where you look. The first line: “I’m not a ladies man, I’m a landmine, filming my own fake death”. On ‘Fatalist Palmistry’, he sleeps on his back “because it’s good for the spine (and coffin rehearsal)”. On ‘The Song of the Sad Assassin’, Yoni and the perpetual female “you” find a dead body floating in water, and wrap its wound anyway.

So that’s the first step. It’s about death. But that’s just a black background to paint on. All human existence is about death. There are layers still to unwrap. The other universal which is omnipresent on Alopecia is sex, as seen inside the head of Yoni Wolf. Everyone’s normal is someone else’s perverted, but some of the lyrics challenge by most standards. “I’ll suck the marrow out and rape your hollow bones, Yoni”. “I never said I didn’t have syphilis, Miss Listless”. “Stalker’s my whole style, and if I get caught, I’ll deny.”

Now sex and death are universal, and obviously they’ve been done to death [ugh] but when they’re unearthed in such a bizarre and obsessive manner, it’s hard not to see things differently. Need more ingredients? Try Christian imagery. Son of a rabbi, talking about a past or future girlfriend as the “female young messiah”, “what the church-folk mean by the good news” on ‘Simeon’s Dilemma’. It gets thicker than that, though. Perhaps aware of the trade-off sometimes known as ‘selling out’, or perhaps for some other unknowable reason, the martyr references are nothing short of messianic. “If I get lost, or die on a cross, at least I wasn’t born in a manger.” “Does the cock crow thrice until someone is denied?”

I’m not going to get any further with that sort of approach, I doubt. New parts will reveal themselves, but there’ll never be a whole. That’s the thing about lyrics like this. To twist the meaning of what one of the ghostly fathers said about language, it has both a social and an individual aspect. Social is what we can get.

It’s the sex, the death, the weirdly incongruous religious imagery. But individual is what we miss, and what we can never know. When you write a diary, you write, first and last, to yourself. And that’s what Why? is. That’s why it’ll never be see-through. It might not even be see-through to Yoni. It really is something literary though, and it makes me a little sad to think back to those fist-pumping fans singing back to him about raping his hollow bones at Andrew’s Lane. If you say it yourself, maybe it’s a personal sort poetry. If someone else says it to you… isn’t it a threat?

And your eyes are piss-holes in the snow.

“I’m just not used to being out and about this early on a Sunday. My body doesn’t know what to do.” – heard in conversation outside Twisted Pepper on Abbey Street whilst waiting for the fantastically devised stripped-down Why? matinee set, not so long after noon.

Thanks to the manoeuvres of LitSoc (who like Joni for his poetic lyrics), DURNS (whose RN stands for Rock Nostalgia, leading me to believe that they were drawn in by the MOR rock of Gemini Song), Analogue (because Bren was in a position to make the calls, and because Why? are our official collective ninth favourite band*) and Bodytonic (who I assume opened their new venue at a strange hour so that people would know it was there), this genuinely exciting prospect came to pass. There were probably somewhere a little above fifty people there, all seated, and they saw something pretty unique.

Are lyrics poetry? That can’t be answered with a yes or a no because the definition of poetry isn’t static, and the nature of lyrics is also pretty varying. If I was to be anal about the whole thing, I could mention that almost everything that pop-culture considers poetry is actually lyric poetry, from Shakespeare to Ginsberg. But I won’t. I’ll do it by experiment.

Here’s
To inhaling crushed bones
through a dried up
white out pen
and riding the backwards racer
in hot June rain
in a matching blue and gold
plastic bag / poncho / raincoat.

It’s a wooden coaster
with a medium hill height mean,
high hill to flat ground ratio
you know I’d sell my shingles
for a thimble dip of snow.
Back then I’d’ve sold my single
for a fingertip of glow.

That’s the form of the first verse of Crushed Bones from the liner lyrics to Elephant Eyelash, by the way, I didn’t just space it out so it’d look like that.

I personally think what Joni Wolf does is more lyrics-set-to-music than a contiguous rock and roll song type of thing. All of the lyrics (excepting maybe the few songs that are actually sung straight through) heave with internal rhyme, with perfect measurement and judgement so that there can always be a lot of syllables if there needs to be, without there ever being too many. These songs (they are definitely songs, even if you concede that they could constitute poetry) would stand alone. Take away the careful guitar and keyboards of Alopecia and Elephant Eyelash, or the bedroom fuzziness of Oaklandazulasylum and you would still have the skeleton of something genuinely excellent.

It might even be better.

Some of the time it was. The Fall of Mr. Fifths (off Alopecia) in particular came off amazingly, stripped of its organ and the cushion of reverb. The sight of Joni, microphone left on its stand, rhyming to the backing a single drum, conjures images of San Francisco beat gatherings to me. It’s almost mesmeric.

I asked him awkwardly about this while I tried to jam the synth that I had to inexplicably provide back into its case after the gig had finished. He must do it often, I said. In exotic places like Oakland, coffee shop Anticon gigs must be the order of the day. He looked vaguely pitying and explained that he wasn’t part of “that scene”.

Another convenient imagined reality smashed. But really, that just made the Twisted Pepper set even more unique.

Some day, Those Geese, I will write an unreadable, 5,000 word post on Why? as poetry using academic standards. There’s so much. The recurring obsession (or identification?) with Christ and Christianity in general. Bones, whether raped, snorted or inhabited. The bizarre images in general. It will be done. No it won’t. Oh well.

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*This statement is not true.
**This picture was nicked off the Analogue blog, and was taken, as far as I can tell from the Properties, by the magnificent ivebeentired, whoever that is. Nice picture, yo.

And your eyes are slits in bags of fat

Disclaimer/Acknowledgement: This gig was ages ago. I have the same excuses every blogger has, so I won’t bore you with them.

Why? at Andrew’s Lane Theatre. Where have I heard that one before? Oh yeah, here. But lack of imagination notwithstanding, it was great to get a second visit off Joni and crew on what is essentially the same tour. Bands (Of Montreal, Deerhoof, Animal Collective) seem to have started skipping us over again this winter. Even if we’ve started to bleep on the radar of bands like this, the second sweep through Europe generally heads straight to the UK without so much as a cursory glance at “the best crowd in the world”.

On the evidence of this redux, however, it appears that good behaviour (i.e. loud cheering) has indeed yielded us the proverbial “nice things”. Hurray.

The set was essentially the same as last time, possibly in a different order. It’s amazing how good it was, given that fact. These songs in their live format don’t seem like they could ever be old. The arrangements are tense, much closer than the occasionally too-clean productions on the album, and needle-point tight. The clacking snare-rim beat of Crushed Bones (opening track on Elephant Eyelash), strewn with daydreamy arpeggios, provides the perfect tensile canvas for Joni to sing over. Or rap over? Speak over? Sing-rap-recite.

It’s hard to tell exactly what Joni is. There is definitely a literary character to what he does, almost like a novel full of fictionalised diary entries but with no clear conclusion. Musically, indie rock cannot fully claim him, because of the clear hip-hop influences, for example on the drums. But hip-hop doesn’t want him, as I found out on a rap forum I was lurking on while trying to find Pharaohe Monch’s album*. “Pussy-ass Jew boy bullshit”, or something to that effect.

It obviously doesn’t matter where he’s categorised. That’s a job for people like me on the midnight oil, and has no actual importance. The gig was (almost) as packed as last time, and the people there were (almost) as zealous as last time. And what was last time? I believe I concluded by literarily calling it “deadly” at the time. This was deadly too. Real atmosphere, real chemistry. But above all, great songs.

I’ll be right back with more Why?

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*the secondhand CD rack at ground level right in front of the counter in the new Freebird facing onto the Central Bank is THE source for every decent rap album since 1980.

**the picture is of Josiah Wolf, whose skill at playing glockenspiel and drums at the same time is beyond impressive***

***those two asterisks don’t refer back to anything specific in the text.

No More Pocket Combs


Singing along to Why? is like reading along to a short story. Nobody told that to pockets of devout fans in Andrew’s Lane last night though. While it’s a little awkward to see people pumping fists and shouting “I’LL SUCK THE MARROW OUT AND RAPE YOUR HOLLOW BONES YONI!” in any situation, never mind at a gig, the rock show contingent made things a little exciting if nothign else. It took Yoni about six songs to break out of his ultra-serious face, but once he acknowledged the several hundred people working themselves into a frenzy in front of him, the whole thing took on a sort of a personal colour.

Apart from the energy of the room, the gig itself was surprisingly excellent. I was expecting something much more lo-fi and… white-boy hip hop. It wasn’t like that at all, for better or for worse. They stuck mostly to Alopecia and played all the prominent songs from it. A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under was particularly impressive for Josiah’s ability to play breakneck vibraphone and drums at the same time. The Vowels allowed a bit of bobbing and was probably a highlight, though I have to say that they’re such a tight live band that the best songs on the night were just the best songs from the albums.

Which would mean Gemini obviously, being the aural proof that MOR can be good if it has great lyrics. Catching unconnected sentences of those great lyrics was the best part about seeing Why?. Even though the hair-cutted masses did their best to half-rap along, Why? is in essence the stream of consciousness of one guy from Cincinnati. It’s immune to outside circumstances, because it’s so self-absorbed. It’s like a diary. That’s why he’s so good.

They promised to come back soon, like everyone does. I’ll practice my words and my fist-pumping in the interim. I’ll definitely be there though, because this was deadly.

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