Report: Wye Oak Live in Pittsburgh

 

At Club Café on August 2, Jenn and Andy
celebrated happiness.

 

BY MIKE SHANLEY

 

Andy
Stack must have the urge to rock out once in a while. During a Wye Oak
performance, many opportunities arise that are ripe for a Keith Moon-style drum
fill or #something# that matches the
intensity of guitarist/vocalist Jenn Wasner’s power chords.

 

Yet,
Stack resists. He plays drums with his right hand, often alternating between
the floor tom and the snare on the odd and even beats, respectively. His left
hand is married to his keyboard, which fills out the chordal parts of the music
and probably has something to do with the phantom bass notes. Most of the time,
his hi-hat is dancing wildly too. So it’s possible that Stack is so busy doing
the work of a two-piece rhythm section, and maintaining a steady tempo for
about an hour, that he’s too occupied to think about rocking any harder.

 

On the
first show of a tour jaunt that Wasner admitted will keep them on the road
until around Christmas, Wye Oak played a set that put their instrumentation in
a strong light. What played with a bit of atmospheric production on this
spring’s #Civilian# kicked hard and
loud in person and didn’t let up. If Stack and Wasner became a more standard
live act by adding another guitar and a bass, they’d sound more like any other
band. Perhaps that’s oversimplifying it, but you get the idea. This
presentation brings out the best in their songs. And the standing room only
crowd at the intimate Club Café seemed to agree.

 

The
150-seat room, with its glass bar on one side of the room and black blanket of
lights that cover the back of the stage, more often hosts singer-songwriters
and draws more of the sit-down-with-cocktails clientele than Merge crowd. But
it also employs empathetic soundmen and in the past has presented Mission of
Burma, so it was a given that Wye Oak’s work would come across clearly.

 

 “The Alter” started the set with strong
statement of purpose. Wasner’s blend of power chords and upper register riffing
– another unique element that might get lost with more instruments – bit harder
than the album version, complete with a delay pedal twittering that finished
the solo right before she jumped back to the microphone. Her voice sounded a
little deeper than expected, but she later admitted to being under the weather,
and spoke with a rasp that otherwise wasn’t there during the set.

 

“Holy
Holy” blasted out with more of a Who-like intro and “Hot As Day” gave Stack a
chance to put forth an urgency that felt like Sonic Youth, which was especially
powerful since the song switched back and forth from 5/4 to standard 4/4.
“Plains” also had a little more urgency when shifting from its two-chord groove
to its near breakdown in the chorus. The rest of set leaned heavily on tracks
from #Civilian# as well, although they did pull out a couple from its
predecessor #The Knot# and premiered
one new, as of yet unreleased song (“Pardon” according to the set list) full of
staccato keyboards and jerky drumming.

 

To keep
momentum going between songs, and during frequent guitar changes, a phantom
keyboard droned away just below the surface. 
Wasner bantered with the crowd throughout the set
too. She sent out “Fish” to a couple who were recently engaged, saying, “We’re
dedicating a sad song to celebrate your happiness,” she said. Later she
apologized for the fact that she needed to rest her voice backstage instead of
hanging out and talking to people at the end of the night. With such an immense
touring schedule lined up, everyone understood. 

 

 

[Photo
Credit: Scott Dudelson]

 

 

 

 

 

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