From the archive: Why? – Islington Assembly Hall, London 09/05/13

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FIRST PUBLISHED ON 15 MAY 2013 IN THE LINE OF BEST FIT

The gubernaorial surrounds of Islington Assembly Hall seem slightly at odds with the fluorescent schtick of Doseone – he of Themselves, 13 and God and cLOUDDEAD fame. And for about 10 minutes, an air of bemusement envelopes the early revelers; or perhaps they’re simply hypnotised by his garb (neon-pink t-shirt, big-buckled ‘I Love Haters’-adorned belt and flashy old school hip hop jacket).

The music’s fittingly kaleidoscopic too. His high-pitched squall, laid over disjointed, funk-tinged beats, sits somewhere between Prince and Connan Mockasin. The set is unhinged and fragmented but there’s something mesmeric about watching a man swig from a half-bottle of bourbon on stage. “I rap, too,” he helpfully informs the uninitiated before launching into a series of blistering, propeller-tongued rhymes and leaving to a hearty, if slightly befuddled, round of applause.

The contrast with Anticon stable-mates Why?’s performance could hardly be starker. Yoni Wolf has brought his full quintet on tour and the unit is tight, the set polished and slick. Where Dose was tanking drams of whiskey, Wolf sips from a bottle of mineral water (a tickle in his throat sees him reset the band once or twice). And no matter how many times you spin his records, it’s still always something of a surprise to hear the expletives fall from Wolf’s mouth in the flesh. His slight stature, polite, slightly-reserved stage manner and tame interaction with his audience and band is somewhat incongruous with some of his more potty-mouthed, vitriolic lyrical content.

The songs from Elephant Eyelash and Alopecia were always going to be crowd-pleasers – and so it pans out. ‘Waterfalls’ from the former kicks the set off nicely and Yoni holds the mic aloft triumphantly, as the crowd bellows back the chorus of ‘Good Friday’, not a “disinterested bitch” in the house. The stellar ‘January Twenty Something’ from the sometimes forgotten Eskimo Snow acts as something of a bridge, as Why? launch into a series of cuts from last year’s underrated (at least in some, influential quarters) Mumps, Etc.

One of the most interesting elements of the evening is witnessing the deployment of the band’s newest work. It is arguably Yoni Wolf at his most narcissistic – but as with all of his lyrics, you get the feeling that in the Denton, Texas studio in which it was recorded, there was at least one tongue boring a sizeable hole in a Wolf’s cheek. The band chooses well: the one-two-three of ‘Waterlines’, ‘Strawberries’ and ‘Jonathan’s Hope’ are the record’s strongest and are well-received – but by the time they’re finished, the crowd is baying for old blood.

They get it in the form of ‘These Few Presidents’, ‘Yo Yo Bye Bye’ and ‘The Hollows’. The latter in particular shows Why? and Yoni Wolf at their best: the flicked, bassy riff, the ghostly harmonies, the nasally delivered, borderline slapstick lyrics (“I spent the last six months hiding behind a moustache”) and the big, singalong chorus. The song prompts the first and only real surge from the audience – whose slight reservation is perhaps a reflection of that of the band itself. But musically, the evening’s performance can’t be faulted.

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