September 30, 2017
After an entire year away from the stage, Wye Oak has hit the road, locked and loaded with a new record teeming with gut-wrenching emotion and a familiar warmth that listeners will soon fall in love with all over again. Formed in 2006, the Baltimore duo originally began as Monarch before they changed their moniker to Wye Oak and independently released their first record, If Children. After their debut, the band signed to Merge Records and re-released If Children, followed by five more studio albums on the same label. As the anticipation builds to the release of their latest record, long-time listeners have been waiting to discover what new sound Wye Oak has in store.
That question was readily answered on Thursday night at NoDa’s own Neighborhood Theater as the two-piece took the stage, shrouded in an ambient glow emitted from the string of lights that adorned the enormous American flag draped over the backdrop of the stage. The entire scene was that of pure intimacy as the small crowd huddled around the knee-high stage, leaning in closer and closer to get the best possible view. Singer and guitarist Jenn Wasner adjusted her guitar strap, fiddled with her pedalboard, and gave a heart-warming welcome to everyone in attendance before looking to drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack, nodding in agreement, and setting the evening off into a soundscape that only a band like Wye Oak can produce. The duo’s sound can be described as a tranquil dissonance, with Wasner’s near-angelic voice in tandem with the dream-pop synthesizer sounds floating above the crowd, while her quick-fingered guitar playing and Stack’s sharp drum hits cut through the haze, hooking the audience back to complete focus. The real marvel of this group is their technical ability, with Stack only using one of his arms to play the drums, while his other hand is occupied handling most of the looping and synth work. If that weren’t enough, Stack also seems to control the backing tracks to Wasner’s mellow, yet entirely skilled guitar playing as she switched between guitar and bass throughout the night. With the amount of thought and practice that must go into each of their sets, the two members look surprisingly calm as they play, making their work appear with a seamless, nearly effortless flow that brings a separate awe to their performance.
The set consisted of mostly new, never-before-heard music from the latest unreleased album, with several old songs thrown into the mix to complete the repertoire. Before almost every new song, Wasner filled everyone in on what the song meant to her and Stack, and how the song and the album came to fruition. Whether the songs were born from heartache, pain, and growth, or the beauty of being in love, it seemed that whenever Wasner spoke, it brought everyone in attendance a little closer to her as they hung on her every word. The kind of connection formed between band and audience from that type of story-telling mixed into a performance is something special, reserved for those that were there to witness the warm electricity sparking through the air as the band played on. Not many artists can grasp a closeness like that, but for Wye Oak, it seems entirely natural.
After such a shockingly intimate performance, it would be difficult to not be excited for Wye Oak’s new album, which has been kept very well under wraps through production. Whether you’re a new listener or have been with the band from the beginning, their new music can absolutely be expected to be some of the best of the year, and having the duo back on the road is something to be celebrated.
Check out the remaining dates for Wye Oak’s 2017 tour.