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Why? @ (Le) Poisson Rouge 3.17.12 (review, photos)

(Photo by Kerry Poling)

Why Le Poisson Rouge

Bay Area indie/psych/hip-hop outfit Why? hit (Le) Poisson Rouge last night, March 16. The Bleecker Street nightclub nearly filled up with a fairly young crowd of folks who looked very little like the audience for what was, first and foremost, a hip-hop show. They were buzzing with excitement, though, and flocking up close for a view of the Anticon mainstays. After a solid set by frequent Why? collaborators Danielson, the band set up and frontman Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf stepped on stage with some major swagger. Why? is a four-piece, but all eyes were clearly on rapper/singer/songwriter Yoni.

Why? kicked things off with the confessional “Good Friday” off the band’s third full-length, Alopecia. While rapping about “jerking off in an R. Crumb exhibit”, Yoni busted out some slightly forced hip-hop moves. Despite being a little self-conscious about rapping in (Le) Poisson Rouge, Yonni found his stride and gave a remarkably intimate and passionate performance. The rest of the band was on point too, with sister Liz Wolf taking bass, backup vocals and sometimes keys or percussion, brother Josiah Wolf on drums and sometimes bass (simultaneously!), and Doug McDiarmid on piano.

Over the 15-song set Why? unveiled eight new songs from a forthcoming album, which still hasn’t been publicly titled or even officially announced. The first was apparently the lead single, due out sometime next month. Yoni spouted lyrics like “rockin’ soccer socks in sandals like ‘yeah, bro’” in between a sung chorus of “strawberries on your birthday, Shirley”. Afterwards Yoni noted that he “sang it better on the record ‘cause a robot did it”.

Most of the other new songs took the same form of verbose rapping in between something of an indie-pop chorus. The second new track found` Yonni harnessing his inner Frank Ocean as he crooned a chorus of “you will thirst like that always, you will always thirst like that”. On one of the most memorable tracks Yoni talked about getting the mumps while the rest of the band whistled and brought out a playful beat before exasperatedly reciting in unison: “Good God, what the hell, what the fuck. A white dove on the hood of a two ton truck”. On another a jazzy drumbeat and piano track accompanied Yonni as he carefully rapped about birds and sang that “there is real peace in the regular order of my most intimate geometry”. The one song that Wolf titled was “White English”, on which he repeated “lost in translation” over a reggae bassline and a quick piano. There was also a largely chanted track about sex in long-term relationship, an intimate reflection on uncertainty, and a drizzly, hip-hop piece on which Yonni repeats, “I am my father’s daughter”. While performing more new songs than old could be a disappointment, each one they debuted just made the new album more enticing.

Between the new songs Why? performed several of their rap-heavier tracks from 2008’s Alopecia and 2009’s Eskimo Snow, never reaching back to their first two albums, unfortunately. They played “These Few Presidents” with some added beat-boxing, “January Twenty Something”, “Brook and Waxing”, and the highlight of the night “The Hollows”, on which the whole crowd joined in. For the encore they did an intimate “Eskimo Snow” followed by an ecstatic “By Torpedo or Crohn’s” with the audience filling in the backup vocals.