Wye Oak

2012 has been a sedate year for Wye Oak, unless you count the excellent solo singles released by vocalist/guitarist Jenn Wasner’s under the name Flock of Dimes. Or her upcoming balls out pop project with White Life/ The Art Department’s John Ehrens: Dungeonesse. The only new music released under the Wye Oak name this year was the lone track “Spiral”, which sounds like it probably would’ve been released under the Flock of Dimes name had it not been commissioned for Adult Swim’s Singles Program. It sounds great, but is definitely more poppy and in line with Wasner’s other non-guitar heavy projects. The task of keeping their fans engaged seems to have fallen to Wasner, but if drummer/keyboardist/bassist/genuine musical everyman Andy Stack is as busy offstage as he is on, then he must have at least an equal amount of projects in the works.

With their lax year in mind, it made perfect sense for them to open with a new song. Instantly giving an audience who were eager to know what they’ve been up to a preview of what is to come. They played several great and exciting new songs that all hinted at a more airy and sonic direction, whilst still being anchored by Wasner’s melodic and distorted guitar tone. The first known song they play is the bouncy and explosive “Holy Holy”, Stack provides both the serene scene setting organ and the blasting death strike that launches Wasner’s shivering guitar climax.

The duo seemed far more relaxed than they did during their last London show at the XOYO in November 2011. Where they appeared exhausted at the conclusion of a long year of touring that followed the release of their acclaimed third album Civilian. This results in a more fun, laid back, and sweaters-still-on kind of show. “This is cosy” notes Wasner, showing that even she knows that this is a comfortable feeling show. Which makes them seem almost effortlessly and casually great, making Wasner’s fantastic voice seem even more enviable as she offhandedly sings her mournful lyrics. “I’ve never been on stage in a sweater before”, Wasner says blaming it on the cold Scala venue. “We’re freezing but we’re looking forward to getting warmer under the lights”, which was said with a confidence that suggested she knew their performance was going to warm up the crowd.

The playing of one man rhythm section; Andy Stack, is really a site to see. He plays drums with his right hand and keyboards with his left, on which he usually is playing bass rhythms. It’d be incredibly impressive even if their songs weren’t good. He was also celebrating his 28th birthday: “He’s been putting up with my shit for 10 years”, says Wasner. He took on yet another role during “Spiral”, which saw him playing bass and tweaking knobs. The song comes across excellently live as Wasner apes the hypnotic marimba loops on guitar strings, whilst knelt in front of her pedals. The echoey and rubbery keyboard bass on the restrained, measured and gorgeously paced “Plains” builds to a brief but all-consuming conclusion. And Wasner’s hushed lyrics and loud guitar strums during “Take It In”, from their second album The Knot, perfectly shows the band’s contrast between fierce and subtle beauty.

After several songs they stare at each other, waiting for the other to start the next song. Before they are both forced to admit that they forgot to bring out their setlists. After Stack fetches one, and Wasner playfully claims that a lot of work goes into their ‘elaborate’ and ‘organised’ live set, they play a great version of “Hot as Day”. The slow heavy stomp of “That I Do” features the best solo of the night, a mangled flurry of notes over Stack’s heavy drum strikes. The build up to the guitar seizure in “Dogs Eyes” is momentarily ruined by a broken drum pedal. Which, much to Wasner’s delight, Stack immediately swapped out with a standby replacement. She gleefully taunted him for being so organised: “You nerd!”, “We’re playing with rented equipment and he had the exact thing we needed!”. Miraculously, after the unplanned and funny interlude, the guitar stills hits hard.

They ended their main set with “Civilian”, its opening chords sparking the biggest response of the night. They returned for a lone encore of “For Prayer”, during which Stack was attacked by an unfortunately timed smoke machine throughout the beautiful opening, before it ended the night perfectly with an electric and feverish climax. It sounds as if this was the last Wye Oak show for a while, at least until they have a new album, and even the band didn’t seem sure of when that will be. But hopefully as Wasner says, it won’t be “too too long” before we hear from them again.