Live Music: Wye Oak @ The Black Cat - 3.11.11

Wye Oak laying waste to The Black Cat last Friday

The first time I saw Wye Oak, they were opening for Blitzen Trapper at Ottobar in Baltimore. I can’t recall if it was the last night of their tour, or if it was just the first time the duo of Jen Wasner and Andy Stack had been home for a long while. But either way, they made it a point to let us know that this was a sort of homecoming show for them. The two musicians then proceeded to tear through a set that was as ferocious as it was joyful. Blitzen Trapper, as great a band as they are, quite literally ended up as sort of a happy afterthought to the night.

In the two years since that night, Wye Oak has not only managed to hang on to all of that power and all of that joy, they have managed focus it to the point that hearing them play now is akin to standing in the eye of a controlled hurricane. Wasner’s guitar, washed in reverb and distortion, moves from a quiet, slightly off tune hook, to a veritable roar in an instant. If you didn’t know better you would swear that there was nothing short of an army of guitarists joining her on stage. And that’s only half of the equation. In less skilled hands, Andy Stack's dual duty as drummer and keyboard player might come off as gimmick. Here it not only makes sense, it gives the impression that it is absolutely necessary. By having one hand free to play a keyboard, Stack is able to ground Wasner’s sometimes angular guitar work with power chords and subtle textures.

What Stack achieves both on record and in a live setting is nothing short of alchemy, and the same could be said for what this band achieves as a whole. Two people shouldn’t be able to make this much noise. They shouldn’t sound this damn good. But at the end of Friday night, there wasn’t a question in anyone’s mind that Wye Oak just ARE and nobody has any business questioning the hows or whys.

Clocking in at just over 1 hour, the band's set Friday night in front of a sold out crowd was relatively short. But what they lacked in duration they more than made up for in immensely satisfying, immensely powerful rock. This was the first date of the tour, and these were songs that the band had never really played in front of people, but a visibly sick Wasner was still able to capture the crowd in a matter of minutes, and she never let them them go. Running through most of the tracks off of their latest album, Civilian, the band also dipped well into their back catalog. Songs from their EP My Neighbor/My Creator made an appearance, including both songs that the EP takes its name from, as well as a handful of songs from their second album, The Knot. Most notable from that album was a positively head-banging rendition of the song “For Prayer” to close the show.

There’s not much else to say about this band except GO SEE THEM. This time out, they are going to be touring for about five weeks, wrapping it all up on April 16th back in Baltimore. So be sure to make it out when they come to your town. This is a band that is firing on all cylinders right now is most assuredly not to be missed.

Check out the remaining tour dates but never fear if you can’t make it out to any of them. NPR’s All Songs Considered streamed the entire show and you can listen to or download right HERE at your convenience, so be sure to check that out. In the meantime here is some video footage of the band performing "Take It In" from The Knot.