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Concert Review: Wye Oak at Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge, MA

April 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Concert Reviews, Daily Music News

Wye Oak
Middle East Upstairs
Cambridge, MA
April 12, 2011

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Reviewed by:  Dorise Gruber

You know those cartoons and commercials where the characters are listening to music so loudly that it literally blows their hair back into a frizzy wind-tunnel ‘do?  Tuesday night’s Wye Oak show at the Middle East Upstairs was kind of like that.  With intense floor vibrations I could feel my sinuses clear and even my spleen begin to tremble – I knew those portable ear plugs would come in handy some day.

Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack may just be two people, but combined to create Wye Oak, they immerse you with complex and rich sound, saturating your ear drums and penetrating your innards.  I heard someone standing near me describe Wye Oak’s music as “being baptized in sound,” and I think that’s a fitting metaphor.  Jenn’s voice is a warm-honey alto, and while Andy may be a goof, his drum savvy is no joke.  Drumming is difficult enough on its own, but Stack would flip his drum stick between mallet and traditional tip, set pedals and pads in motion, and would even play the bass notes on a keyboard without missing a drum beat.  Throw in some distortion pedals, some Wasner headbanging, and a little reverb (faulty mic on one of the toms), you’ve got yourself a full-on garage experience.

This was Wye Oak’s first headlining tour, but given that it sold out way in advance, the only way you’d know that they hadn’t been headlining for years was in the chummy way they chatted with the audience.  Andy came out to introduce the band with “Ladies and Gentlemen, WYE OAK!” followed by exiting the stage, and then running back on stage with Jenn.  Their demeanor was playful and humble, they joked about how hot it was and how gross they felt, reiterated numerous times how thankful they were for the reception we’d provided, and Jenn constantly gushed school-girl crush style for their tour-openers, The Callers.  In fact, Jenn even joined The Callers for one of their numbers, and Don (from The Callers) played the kiddingly-dubbed “what-the-f**k-a-phone” for a couple Wye Oak songs.  A note on the Callers – they were ambient rock and I think made a lot of sense as Wye Oak’s openers, but they were kind of hit-or-miss for me.  Regardless, I could really appreciate the singer’s killer jazz pipes – to me she sounded kind of like a more modern (and female) Aaron Neville.  I only caught the last couple notes from the first band, Jaggery, but when I asked some girls near me what they thought they said it sounded like “haunted unicorns.”  I guess you and I will both need to use our imaginations on that one.  Well, that, or we can look them up on Myspace.

Anyhow!  Wye Oak is soon wrapping up their tour, but be sure to get your mitts on their new album, Civilian, since it harbors some of their best songs to date.  If you want a real treat, I recommend checking out the video of their NPR Tiny Desk Concert, since watching that video was the moment I fell in love with this incredible two-piece.  Once you watch the video and realize how sad you are that you missed their show, though, it should be of consolation that there are still huge things to come from this tiny band, so stay tuned!


To find out when Wye Oak is coming to your neck of the woods check out their official website here.

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