Saturday, February 25, 2012

Exposing Themselves: Wye Oak and Sea of Bees at the Independent, 2/24

By Kathleen Richards
Sat, Feb 25, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Apparently, something in the air of the show at the Independent Friday night made it particularly easy to overshare — in fact, it seemed impossible not to. Perhaps it was because the show was sold out weeks in advance; being inside felt like you had won the lottery, and the crowd seemed utterly grateful (at least upfront; audible chatter from the back of the room could be heard in quieter moments). Likewise, the bands* seemed humbled and happy to be there, which always helps. Or maybe it was the weather that day, which had been more summerlike than mid-winter. Whatever the case, both frontwomen of Sea of Bees and Wye Oak indulged in quite a bit of talking last night, which only seemed to endear them more to their fans. “I’m gonna shut up now,” was the line both women said at one point.

(* Apologies that I missed openers Social Studies and 21st Century)

Sea of Bees’ Jules Bee seemed positively in love with the audience, remarking twice how good-looking the SF crowd was in between her songs and threatening to lay a kiss on one of her more effusive fans in the audience. Backed by a bassist, guitarist and drummer (a friend who was winging it), Bee strummed an electric acoustic guitar and sang in her impassioned, emotion-filled voice, which seems to avoid hard consonants and thus almost sounds like she has an accent. Bee, who’s from Sacramento, started her career playing solo, so maybe that’s why the final song she played, alone, was the most powerful moment of the night — truly captivating.

Wye Oak seemed like the perfect band for Noise Pop this year. Singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner noted that the Baltimore duo has, indeed, both noise and pop elements. It also attracts a slightly older fanbase (I first heard about them through a fiftysomething-year-old friend), and this being the twentieth anniversary of Noise Pop this year, it seemed apt that the crowd skewed more NPR, less KALX.

From start to finish, Wye Oak’s set was an impressive display of musicianship and songcraft — even given the fact that, as Wasner told the crowd more than once, the band was going on only a couple hours of sleep, having driven up from LA that morning after playing a show the night prior. Thanks to her merch gals, she was staying upright purely on “cow adrenaline.” Wasner did seem like she was in a bit of daze, starting a song off with the wrong chord, or the wrong tuning on a couple occassions. But not in the least bit did this did not put a damper on the night.

Two songs in to the set, the band gave the audience what it wanted by playing the catchy single “Holy Holy.” Wye Oak’s fondness for loud-soft dynamics is what gives the music such emotional heft, without feeling overwrought. The best moments were when Wasner let loose, scratching her guitar strings in a barrage of noise as Andy Stack (a more capable drummer one-handed than most drummers are two-handed) did the same, with an impeccable sense of feel for the music’s dynamics. Armed with a double-ended drumstick (a mallet on the other end), he effortlessly transitioned between light and harder hits, adding subtle accents to the beat while keeping the bass drum and high hat steady and alternating. Meanwhile his left hand held down atmospheric notes, sometimes arpeggiated, on a keyboard tucked beneath his high hat.

After a rousing set, Wasner went backstage to get whiskey and returned for a three-song encore that included a noise-popped rendition of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” which apparently the band plays during soundcheck. It was a fitting night to try something daring, as Wasner sang: “Sometimes I’m goody goody … Right now I’m naughty naughty.”


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