Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Concert review: Wye Oak, Lower Dens

Wye Oak, Lower Dens (with Jana Hunter)
Saturday March 13, 2010 at Brillobox
with Spencer, Lisa, Brittany

I am so glad Wye Oak passed through Pittsburgh. I've been thinking about how good their music would be to see live, and I distinctly remember checking their website for tour dates only a day or two before it was announced that they were coming to the Brillobox. I didn't recognize the name of the opener (Jana Hunter) and it was even changed (to Lower Dens) later on, and I thought it strange that only one opener was listed, so I didn't feel bad running a little late to the show. However, Brittany was already there waiting on Lisa and me since we had the tickets on reserve (oops!), so I'm glad we happened to catch the 54C after waiting at the stop for five minutes and then deciding to just start walking in the right direction anyway. Spencer met us there later on.

I had a strange experience on the walk to the bus stop. While walking past the driveway entrance to the bank on the corner of Morewood and Centre, there was a car turning right into the bank parking lot. I looked quickly to my left and saw that it pulled up beside us and was waiting for us to walk by, but it still seemed awfully close. I looked forward and kept walking, but then I suddenly felt something hit my “back” leg as the car rumbled into the lot. My first thoughts, upon turning abruptly around, were that someone tossed a bottle or something solid out of the window, or else the car kicked up a rock; but I didn't hear any bouncing rock or broken glass, and I didn't see anything on my pants in the area where I felt a dull pain. What happened? I couldn't think of what else it could be. I must have been “hit” by a car. They were in such a rush to pull into the bank (that was closed, at that time of night, even) that they couldn't even wait for a pedestrian to get fully out of the way! To be honest, I'm still not 100% sure this is truly what happened, but I can't think of any alternatives . . .

Anyhow, after getting to the bar, meeting Brittany downstairs, and venturing upstairs, we came upon a mostly empty room with a DJ playing some “dance” music with the lights fairly bright. It was a little awkward for a while, with people standing around. The only people really dancing were at the front-right area of the stage, and they were Andy and Jenn from Wye Oak!

After a while, Lower Dens took the stage. I had no idea what to expect, and I was blown away. As a hardcore Velvet Underground fan, this is probably the closest I've come to experiencing what it must have been like to see them in their early, noisy days. The drumming was throbbing and metronomic, the guitars reverb-laden and forcefully melodic, and the singer had a Mo Tucker-like alluring androgyny and a soft voice that somehow still perfectly cut through the wall of sound. I was enthralled throughout their entire set, lulled into a strangely soothing and meditative state by their droning sound, despite how fucking loud it really was. I spoke with the guitarist after the show, and they have an album coming out sometime in the summer, ideally; their current tour is preparation for the recording process later in the spring. I bought a CD with 4 demo versions of songs they played and it sounds pretty good; I'm quite excited to see what they come up with in the studio, and I really hope it lives up to their live experience. I definitely want to see this band again.

Wye Oak took the stage around 11:30. After listening to their two albums, I was curious about how they achieved such a full sound, with guitar and drums and bass and (sometimes) strings, despite having only two members. Why did I never think to watch live clips on the interwebs? Well, it turns out that the drummer Andy plays drums with his right hand and keyboards with his left, generating all of the other sounds. He even played while blowing into a tube in his mouth for one song, which I assume is some sort of way to affect the sound of the keyboards. (Update: I learned from this NPR story that it's a melodica. And I watched his feet for a little while, and they never even touched the ground! They were constantly raised and poised to pound a cymbal/drum. Check out this video of him playing the drum and bass parts for their song “Warning” and be prepared to be amazed.

Janna's voice is so haunting and poignant, and I don't know anyone else who can rock out a swirling, reverb-drenched guitar solo and then subtly tap a foot pedal and suddenly switch back into the soft and slow melody from before. It's mighty impressive and fascinating to watch. I really like their sound, and am also looking forward to their next album. They had a 5 song EP for sale (info and a free download of one song here) but I had already spent my cash (and some borrowed cash) on the Lower Dens demo CD and an album of Jana Hunter's.

Oh right, so I did some Googling and reading the next day and learned that Lower Dens is a recently-formed band, and the lead singer is Jana Hunter, a singer/songwriter from Baltimore-via-Texas who has a couple of solo albums out, and seems to be mostly known as a friend of/collaborator with Devendra Banhart. I bought one of those solo albums at the show, thinking (I guess, rather naively) that it would be similar to the band's sound. It sounds quite different, in fact, but is equally good in its own way. I also figured out she was in a band in Austin, TX in the late 1990s called Matty & Mossy and they had one album and that link is the ONLY one I could find with any possible way of obtaining it. Is it really that rare? Is my internet-search ability that poor? I've posted some videos below of her performing solo. Do check them out and be amazed by how they are so different from (and yet somehow similar to?) the Lower Dens songs here.

Overall, this was a truly awesome show. The kind of music that these two bands play is fascinating to see and listen to live, and I really hope to see both of them again in the future.

Thanks to Brittany for taking and sending me the pictures of Wye Oak you see here!

Lower Dens – blog
They, unfortunately, don't really have anything else available/findable on the web.

Wye Oak – For Prayer live
Wye Oak – Live on NPR
Wyea Oak – official video for “Please Concrete”
Wye Oak – Daytrotter session

Jana Hunter – “Palms” live
Jana Hunter – live in Houston (2 parts, full concert)
Jana Hunter – Daytrotter session

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