Los Angeles, CA
Yoni Wolf and his brother Josiah Wolf (yes, I was suspicious of these just being stage names as well) nerdily tumbled to the stage with pompous swaggers and elbow-patched sweaters that could only be reproduced by that fuckin’ hall-monitor/math tutor kid in high school that was always berating people who didn’t know what “cosine” meant. Then, naturally, they began a minute-and-a-half-long flowing poetic slam rhyme session that could only be topped by Yoni elegantly smashing some piano keys and his brother playing bass guitar and a kick drum made out of a guitar case. Perhaps I should back up. I just confused myself there, as well. Yoni Wolf is the driving force behind a band called WHY?. WHY? have been around for 6 or 7 years, sulking around in Berkeley / Cincinnati basements, crafting a sound that could only be described as indie hip-hop with a touch of emo. Remember that word? emo?
The majority of songs by the brothers Wolf are piano-driven, singularly strong in melody and then very dramatically and theatrically expounded to a degree where the listener cannot help but (even if reluctantly) be carried away into their own introspective places. Sometimes dark places, sometimes innocently amusing places. I could imagine early iterations of these over-dramatic songs being played for parents who could only roll their eyes and hope for the best. At least, that’s what my parents would do. Lyrics are somewhat perverse and are elegantly-crafted poetry that usually culminate in very powerful hooks with some pretty cerebral wordplay. For instance, in the song “Good Friday,” Wolf’s lyrics, “If I’m sinking in laughing at something sunken and I am,” repeated, are so perfectly flowing they’re almost like glossolalia. Other lyrical expressions are oddly comical observations worthy of being thieved by Larry David. A few songs, from WHY?’s most recent album, Eskimo Snow, are decidedly more Americana and alt-country-inspired. Perhaps Yoni listens to some Wilco sometimes. Early Wilco, of course.
The set was speckled with a couple of stripped-down covers of some very classic pre-indie songs. They expertly tackled a somewhat obscure Smiths song and then, as part of the encore, played “Close To Me” by The Cure. If there were any unsure patrons in the crowd, they were definitely won over by the Cure cover. It is unlikely, though, that there were any reluctant people in the crowd because — even seated — the fanbase was very vocal, devoted and… fanatic. There was a nearly constant jovial banter between Yoni and a few fans in the audience. I suppose his songs have such a powerful ability to connect to the fan so personally that a few people just felt like they were his friends. Or maybe they all were friends and they actually did have inside jokes with one another. Either way, the conversations between songs was amusing for everyone. As one female patron proclaimed her love, Yoni mock-arrogantly replied, “You know it, bitch.” As a young man in the audience confessed that he often gets drunk alone to WHY? albums, there was a heart-felt thank you from the duo on stage, and I bet a few others in the audience thought, “Maybe this guy’s on to something.”
During the encore, Wolf explained that he was scared shitless by the jungle backstage (there was a set for Jungle Book), and he felt like giraffes and snakes were attacking him. Then ensued another tongue-in-cheek anecdote about his lust for Mogli. As the brothers bounced off one another, and their sister — who by the way emceed the night and roasted Yoni before the show, I couldn’t help but feel like I was back in their Cincinnati living room being entertained by close friends. I guess that’s where all the hardcore fans get it. And in almost exactly an hour of unique and well-crafted music, plus friendly humor, the experience ended. Every moment was worth every penny.
Oh, and one of the cast members from It’s Always Sunny… was there. I saw him in the bathroom line after. No, it was not Danny Devito.