Some background; I’m a lapsed and recently rekindled WHY? fan. Having massively enjoyed Yoni’s early abstract hip-hop for Anticon under the moniker and the first two albums released by the more widely known indie-band incarnation, WHY? somewhat lost me after their excellent sophomore LP Alopecia. 2009 follow up Eskimo Snow never grabbed me in the same way, and 2012’s Mumps, Etc. completely passed me by. Fast forward to 2017 and the band made what I consider a huge return to form with their latest album Moh Lhean, settling into a softer style while retaining the quirky lyricism and unusual arrangements that makes the best of their work so compelling.
With that in mind, and having seen them twice previously nearly a decade ago, I had high hopes for WHY?’s performance at the CCA. Continuing the band’s talent for bringing interesting and talented acts on tour with them (their 2010 tour featured support from excellent but sadly now defunct Berlin indie outfit I Might Be Wrong), the first great success of the evening came in the form of support act Tall Tall Trees. A one man band armed with a formidable customised instrument, Mike Savino produces a powerful and varied array of sounds that can only be described as “psychedelic banjo music”. Running his light-up “Banjotron 5000” through an array of effects pedals and proceeding to manipulate the instrument using fingers, drumsticks, bows and weird musical trinkets including what appeared to be a child’s phaser gun toy, Tall Tall Trees achieves a huge and varied sound featuring everything from distorted riffs to twinkling arpeggios, accompanied by delicate, thoughtful vocals. For an unfamiliar and deeply unusual musician, he developed a rapport with the crowd instantly and had them enthusiastically clapping along by the third song. Between regaling us with tales of the holes in his shoes, he segued from simple, beautiful slow burners to crazy loop jams reminiscent of the likes of Fuck Buttons. With so much character and such a novel method of making sound, Mike’s music is one of my favourite new discoveries this year.
With the appetizer served and digested, WHY? take the stage and immediately launch into a medley of new album tracks, all of which sound fantastic. The acoustics of the CCA’s theatre space prove a perfect platform for the bright keys, crisp percussion and vocal harmonies. Renditions of Easy, This Ole King and the wonderful Proactive Evolution all wash warmly over a crowd that seems both familiar with and enthusiastic about the new material. From here the band segue between older favourites like These Few Presidents and Song of the Sad Assassin and more material from Moh Lhean. Interestingly while it’s a pleasure to hear the earlier cuts live once again, I found the new material richer and more engaging; the sound of a band clearly comfortable with their latest musical evolution. The sardonic wit and unusual slang that characterised earlier songs is still present, but with a less rapid and more melodic delivery that is a huge pleasure to hear live from a well practised quartet.
The CCA’s glorious acoustics prove even more aptly suited to the encore, as the band gather round a single mic for acapella renditions of more early tunes; The Hoofs and January 20 Something have never sounded so evocative stripped back to their barest essentials, and set closer Simeon’s Dilemna provokes a weirdly rousing sing-along of the creepy final refrain; “stalker’s my whole style, and if I get caught I’ll, deny, deny, deny”.
Overall this was a superb and nuanced performance from a band back at the top of their game. Yoni Wolf’s nasal American drawl remains one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary indie-rock, and I can’t wait to hear it again next time they come to town.
For more on WHY? and what they are up to click here.