The Kazimier, Liverpool
7 May 2013
Indie hip hop? Jay-Z crossed with The Smiths? It’s hard to pocket WHY? but the name doesn’t matter so much when the music sounds this good.
As I walked to the gig a shower of shit rained down to the side of me; if I had literally been one step further to the right I would have been covered in bird droppings from the five birds that had just flown overhead. I really hoped that was not going to set the precedent for the night…
Following the aftermath of Sound City and the two competing gigs taking place at Mello Mello and The Shipping Forecast WHY? still managed to draw a sizable crowd to The Kazimier; word had obviously spread that the American hip hop/ indie band were in town.
WHY? Is the brainchild of Yoni Wolf who started out as a solo artist using WHY? as his stage name, he was later joined by brother Josiah Wolf and Doug McDiarmid. During recent years the band has evolved further with the addition of Liz Hodson and Sarah Winters.
Four weeks ago I’d never heard of WHY? but having being asked if I wanted to interview them and review their Liverpool gig I decided to check them out. The interview never took place; promo was cancelled due to Yoni’s Crohn’s disease wrecking havoc, which is completely understandable. In some ways it was a slight relief that the interview didn’t take place the prospect of interviewing Yoni Wolf is a daunting one.
Yoni Wolf projects quite a prickly exterior that perhaps hides a sensitive soul, you cannot write as well as he does without being introspective and receptive to your environment. There is definitely a wall up that probably only those closest to him break through and there is a self deprecating nature that hints at someone who doesn’t necessarily give themselves the credit they deserve.
Yoni’s definitely in the right job, the cathartic nature of art in general lends itself to the self confessional style of his lyrics. The answer is in the complexity of the character, as Peter Brook says ‘you have to peel away the layers to find the nothingness within.’
Looking rather refreshed and sporting an Anticon t-shirt (Anticon being the collectively owned record label which was co-founded by Yoni Wolf in the late nineties) Wolf remarks how The Kazimier looks like a Wild West brothel.
It’s quite easy to focus on Yoni as he does take centre stage and perform the usual front man duties. But, let us not forget that WHY? is a band and although the others seem more than happy to let Yoni take the limelight they are all as important to the band’s sound as each other.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Doug McDiarmid before the gig, the guitarist, the one responsible for THAT riff in The Hollows right after Yoni sings ‘those gypsies probably got knives’- yes, him!
WHY? have a varied back catalogue, Mumps, etc is their fourth album, so their sets consist of old and new material. Highlights include Strawberries from Mumps, etc which lulls you into a false sense of calm, it is musically soothing yet simultaneously lyrically unsettling. The Vowels Pt 2 washes over you like a beautiful melodic wave; then there is the more aggressive and lyrically provocative The Hollows which is definitely one of their finest moments.
Yoni Wolf always appears to be wise crackingly on form and his between song banter only serves to reiterate this. A crowd member shouts “have you been to The Egg” (a vegetarian café). Yoni replies “what egg? The West Egg, the East Egg – what is this? The Great Gatsby?” Then there is the “Salty Taffy that’s what you’re famous for here, right?” remark. WHY? also manage to avoid The Beatles trap, whereby most overseas bands feel the need to give a fawning speech about the Liverpudlian exports, but not Yoni instead he opts to quip “I was told The Beatles played on this stage, you know Stuart Epstein.” He is funny, I’ll give him that.
Lyrically WHY? fuse caustic wit with the kind of realism that Charles Bukowski would be proud of; and a use of language that instantaneously transforms words into vivid imagery. Musically they produce a kaleidoscopic sound that keeps on evolving; managing to merge indie with hip hop creating somewhat of a Jay-Z/ The Smiths hybrid.
When music is good it has the ability to transcend genre, so although a band labelled as indie/hip hop may not appeal to everyone when listened to with an open mind WHY? have the ability to blow you away.
All words by Leanne Durr. You can read more from Leanne on LTW here.