Live at Urban Lounge
Salt Lake City, UT
November 9, 2018
Photos by Julie Pavlacka
Review by Jay Knapp
The first time I ever heard of WHY? was back in 2006 at an Alexisonfire meet and greet they had a few months after their 3rd album Crisis came out. It was this very lax event, just walking around Graywhale – the local record store hosting the event – chatting with the band members while they sifted through records, well CD’s... My friend CJ was upset because I “ruined the vibe” he had going with their bassist. It was weird, funny, and also when we ran into one of the store employees proselytizing about how this hip hop collective, Subtle, was going to change the world. They heard them at the WHY? show the weekend before, and it changed their life. Woah.
Three years later, and many, many, many hours logged listening to Subtle’s entire discography, (honestly, they were incredible) I’m sitting in my friend Derek’s basement. We were probably recording weird songs that, at this point, are left rotting on some dusty old hard drive in someone’s garage. Derek’s getting ready to serve an LDS mission, (Mormon rite of passage, super churchy, lots of Jesus. Etc. etc.), and he throws on The Hollows. Probably not the song his Bishop would recommend, but like, good lord. I was in. His mom, however, walked in at “..well fuck you”, and was very decidedly out.
Alright, look, at this point, if you are wondering why I’m offering a written history of my introduction to WHY?, and in turn their brazen, cinematic masterpiece of an album Alopecia, hear me out: This last Friday, November 9th 2018 roughly 10 years, and 8 months since it’s official release date (3/11/2008) I got the extreme honor of watching WHY? perform the album live. I was 21 when Alopecia came out, and 22 when I finally heard it. That’s nearly 10 years’ worth of life experiences, 10 years allowing countless listens, and 10 years’ worth of excitement poured into a night myself, and hundreds of other people were eagerly anticipating. These shows are different from a standard album cycle tour stop, these shows hold bigger meaning, and I was brimming with antici-
“Hey, do you think after they play a few songs we can move back a bit?” We were front and center, and as full as the excitement goblet (trademark) was getting, I always feel weird being directly in front of the singer. Getting lost in the sonic swirl, swaying, and singing along is sometimes the best kind of therapy out there, but it also feels weird when you are doing it directly in front of the people who wrote the songs. “Oh yeah, that’s cool.” My friend Julie is awesome. My friend Julie had a photo pass, (I mean, obvs. You’re on this page looking at her stunning shutter skills). My friend Julie is, well, short. Like, under 5’ tall short. Like, when I try to get on her level, my knees creak short. It’s a thing. But the even bigger, marquee level thing is minutes away from happening, and 2 beers and a shot of makers in, I’m pushing any and all anxieties all the way under the rug. I’m also giddy watching WHY?’s crew set up, with a MOOG, keys, guitars, drum machines, and just so much percussion, I’m borderline manic. I don’t know about you, but knowing that a band that makes heavily layered music is up on stage making sure each layer is uncovered for our listening pleasure. OOF. Chills.
There’s this look a band gets when they walk out on stage to play live. It’s this determined kind of “We’re here, you’re here, we’re doing a thing for you, let’s rage.” Kind of look. Even Bon Iver gets this look, it’s beautiful, but in this case, was short lived. As front man Yoni Wolf strapped on his bass, with the backing track prepping us for his opening bark, “I’m not a ladies man, I’m a landmine filming my own fake death…”, (The Vowels Pt. 2, Alopecia album opener) irony struck like a kick drum. Which shook the entire venue, and rattled the band who got very appropriate “The fuck?” looks on their faces. The look was quickly replaced with round two of “…let’s rage” and the set kicked off. (Gain readjusted appropriately of course.)
An early set highlight offered drummer and backing vocalist, Josiah Wolf, on double bass duty, (as in guitar and drum) during These Few Presidents. Side note -- I immediately get excited when there is more than one set of drums on stage. I don’t know why. But watching Yoni, and Josiah both pound away gave the show a groove, and urgency a single kit can’t offer. – It was around this point that my concert cohort turned to me asking, “You good?” I don’t know, I guess maybe I can sway around awkwardly in the right setting because I was gooooood. Being that close gave me the perfect view of not only a band who looked like they were having as much fun as we were, but also the bands process in crafting a beautiful album in the live setting.
We had a brief intermission, interestingly enough, right near the middle of the album. Major Moog issues. (Shout out to their sound tech for jumping in to help multi-instrumentalist Matt Meldon get everything working again!) But it also worked out pretty well for the audience since Yoni, and keyboardist Doug McDiarmid offered an impromptu stage jam. (There was a meaty bass line, there was an “Ooooh!” from Josiah, and all was right in the world.)
The band closed out their set with a smattering of songs from the rest of their catalog (Strawberries from Mumps, etc., This Ole King from Moh Lhean, and Crushed Bones from Elephant Eyelash), but interestingly enough left out any song options from Alopecia sister album Eskimo Snow. Note: Some quick online research shows that they have included select tracks from the aforementioned album on other dates. But honestly, that’s less of a complaint than a curious observation I had at the time. The only real knock I might have on the show had nothing to do with the band, so much as the setting. I’ve found 21+ shows offer a less invested crowd. For some, the crowd can make or break the show. In this case, standing immediately at the stage helped combat this issue for me. Ultimately, it was a good night for Utah WHY? fans. We got to experience an album we’ve had the pleasure of idolizing for over a decade now, raw and in person. We got to sway together singing the same refrain together, “While I’m alive, I’ll feel alive”, and goddamn did that set make me feel alive.