Live Review

Wye Oak, Sala Sidecar, Barcelona

All in all, it’s a beguiling spectacle.

There is something beautifully profound and simple about live concerts. As an expression of your art, and a way to reach out to your audience, it doesn´t get much more basic, or honest, than being gathered on a stage, instruments in hand, tasked with entertaining a group of people a few feet away. You can dress it up as much as you want, with all the effects and lasers and paraphernalia that money can buy, but you can’t hide. Up there, in the spotlight, its sink or swim, and no amount of fancy artwork, studio wizardry, or concepts and themes can save you. And bear in mind, while “musicians play music” may be a straightforward idea, just like the perfect steak it’s deceptively difficult to get it right.

Wye Oak seem to have a pretty damn good recipe. The venue, a dark, red brick basement vault, is suitably spartan and intimate, with a stage so small that the monitors are stacked on the floor, where we should be. It also helps that we’re crammed right up against them, so eager are the gathered to get within spitting distance. For once, it’s refreshing to see an audience willing to engage with the music, instead of simply standing at the back looking mildly disinterested as they poke away at their iPhones. Tonight, aside from mutual admiration and much loving (“You guys are the best audience we’ve had so far, you rock!” “We love you! Baltimore rules!” etc), there are even communal shots, purchased by an LA expat and downed to Jenn Wasner´s toast “Here’s to LA… fuck that piece of shit city!”

No doubt the Jägermeister and the assortment of beverages scattered stage left contribute to a certain looseness in her playing, but the relaxed, congenial vibe suits their music oh-so-well. From the stoner alt.rock of ‘Holy Holy’ to the jaunty pop’n’shoegaze combo of ‘Dogs Eyes’ the music ebbs and flows, the more reflective moments occasionally punctured by shattering blasts of distortion, all the better to grab your attention. ‘Take It In’ comes across as a bittersweet lament and, along with ‘For Prayer’, showcases a range and subtlety that Wasner’s voice is rarely given credit for. Anchoring all this is the metronomic precision of Andy Stack who, taking ambidexterity to new levels, drums with one hand while the other manipulates synths and keyboards.

All in all, it’s a beguiling spectacle, and one to restore faith in the merits of lesser lights grafting their way from city to city. There’s a tightness and a bond forged from a gazillion gigs just like this, and despite the fact they’re only two dates from a plane journey home to friends, family, and Thanksgiving, they betray not a hint of road weariness and seem genuinely touched by the reception. The sweetness of ‘Strangers’, a brilliantly executed Kinks cover, is a fitting way to say goodbye – like your favourite tune playing last on the jukebox – and perfectly sums them up: “Strangers on this road we are on / We are not two, we are one.” I like simple things. I like Wye Oak.

Tags: Wye Oak, Features

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