Wye Oak @ The Crocodile, Seattle, WA 08.07.11
At first glimpse of the band onstage, Wye Oak is downright puzzling. The band's recent release (the excellent Civilian) is full of layers of colorful swells, beautiful moments of grace, and chaos that blend perfectly into an incredibly intense experience. Onstage, when Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack go full-bore into a song, the entire audience is smacked in the face with a thick, surprising wall of noise that sounds like it's being channeled from somewhere devilish.
Looking at the action onstage, it's hard to believe that dizzying spectrum of colorful chaos is coming with little to no help from backing tracks, laptops, or other prerecorded gimmickry. That monstrous jet engine of noise is coming from two mild-mannered people who look approachable, like they probably check in with their parents every couple days. People who might be in a kickball league and may very well prefer tea to coffee.
Not to say Wye Oak's lineup is in any way reflective of the indiesphere's recent trend of 15-piece collective groups ("Quick, everyone grab a tambourine and a floor tom!"), but it's impressive to see such a din coming from such a concise source, rather than from a sprawling mass of mostly inconsequential bit parts. What sets Wye Oak apart is their ability to take that wall of noise to the absolute edge of overload, channeling some sort of beast from the great unknown. They let it out of its cage to snarl and froth at the mouth a bit before pulling back on the reins just enough to keep it (and the listening audience) in check.
And none of this is to say that Wye Oak is a noise band. At their base, Wye Oak is a polite folk band full of painfully confessional/confrontational songs about faith (in religious aspects and in personal relationships, as well as the constant wavering fight for faith in one's self through realized imperfections) that build into that sprawl while still retaining incredibly memorable hooks and air-guitar-worthy riffs. Singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner's voice is full of that perfect depth, soulfully bellowing and confident in all the right spots while still brandishing a vulnerability that never seems too precious. Wasner is a totally proficient guitar player during the set's less-eruptive moments, but given the chance to let loose, she transports to some other realm entirely. ImagineJ. Mascis if he was actually, you know, excitable? Eyes rolling into the back of her head, Wasner genuinely seems possessed during her explosive solos, thrashing about and pulling some otherworldly sounds out of a relatively simple setup.
Andy Stack's drumming is as close to ballet as rock drumming gets. Watching Stack hold down the bass lines and atmospheric swells with his left hand firmly rooted to his Nord Electro keyboard while still playing nimble, tom-heavy beats with his right is downright amazing. It's not certain whether it was the heat of the packed room or the swell of the sound, but while both of them fell into that perfect zone during their closing cover of Neil Young's "Pocahontas," with Stack masterfully driving the song and Wasner manifesting gorgeous ethereal tones from her guitar, it was hard to not feel your legs gently slipping out from under you.
Wye Oak Setlist:
- The Alter
- Holy Holy
- Hot as Day
- My Creator
- Dogs Eyes
- New Untitled Song
- That I Do
- Take It In
- Family Glue
- Pocahontas (Neil Young Cover)
- For Prayer