Baltimore duo Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner, better known as Wye Oak, don’t actually make a stage entrance tonight. Instead, as is generally the case at the wonderful Sugar Club, they are onstage helping disassemble their support act’s rig and effectively being their own roadies. This alone, possibly, means that rapturous applause and that giddy moment when you spot a performer taking to the stage tends to be lost at this venue; but conversely the performer / audience barriers are also conspicuous by their absence.
So, intimate isn’t close enough a word to describe some of the past performances witnessed at the Sugar Club and we are all the better for it. And tonight is no slouch in the ‘improvised interaction’ front; there is a near-complete software malfunction heralding support act Bachelorette’s otherwise brilliant set. With the words “bear with me, I need to close down and restart some software” rock and roll has never been so alive…
Anyway, Wye Oak, who manage to divide any and all combinations of drums, keyboards, bass, guitar, vocals and synths between four hands at any one time, are here to show us why their star’s ascension has been so deserved and validated. They begin their new-material-heavy set (almost taken from new album Shriek track by track) with ‘Before’ which showcases Stack’s astounding simultaneous drumming and keyboard abilities as much as Wesner’s perfectly controlled vocals and cavernous bass. The new tracks are definitively on the noisier, more electronic-tinged side of indie but with enough implicit feeling and intricate playing to stand alone among peers, ‘Shriek’ being an absolute gem.
‘Holy Holy’ and ‘Plains’ from 2011’s Civillian are strict-indie and with very little of the nuanced energy with which Wye Oak seem to be playing at present. In saying that, though, they are both still great and Wesner’s understated vocals sound utterly flawless during the latter’s heavier parts. ‘Sick Talk’ has more of the synths which underpin Shriek but yet again the song revolves around Wesner’s vocals and slowly pulsating bassline.
Arguably, the highlight of tonight’s entire performance is ‘Spiral’ which sadly only features anywhere as an Adult Swim Singles track as opposed to a Wye Oak release. This is a rhythmic, dreamy and altogether other-worldly track which encapsulates almost perfectly what this band are about. There is a darkness to it but it is an absolute ear worm and will possibly resonate for weeks. Similarly, ‘For Prayer’ from 2009’s The Knot stands out as one for many future playlists.
There is a knowing element to Wye Oak’s performances in general, tonight being no different. The intimacy and closeness of the venue notwithstanding, Wesner’s interactions with the crowd feel genuine and unlaboured. When she thanks the crowd it’s not lip-service, it’s genuine. And most importantly, for what it is worth, but the crowd are treated to genuinely wondrous music from ostensibly very little. And therein lays the talent and importance of this band. Less is more, and from that let us hope that there is much, much more to come from Wye Oak.
Photo by Derek Kennedy