Why? at Cedar Cultural Center, 9/8/12

Why? at Cedar Cultural Center, 9/8/12

By Ian Hrabe

Why? with Doseone and Serengeti
The Cedar, Minneapolis
September 8, 2012

Some people go to psychiatrists to unload their weird problems, but Yoni Wolf goes on tour. Since 2003, under the alias Why?, Wolf has carved out four excellent LPs loaded with the sort of personal details better suited for the couch than the ears of strangers. Despite references to masturbation in art museum restrooms, stalking ex-girlfriends, hard drives full of pornography, and some of the saddest break-up songs in recent memory, Wolf has become the most successful founder of the Anticon hip-hop collective -- or at least the member who's reached the broadest audience. Wolf has become one of those cult songwriters that gets fawned over by the kind of fans who go to his shows to sing along.

That is exactly what happened on the Cedar Saturday night. The young crowd showed up and freaked out when the songs they knew came on and respectfully bobbed along with their hands in the air to the cuts they hadn't heard from Why?'s forthcoming Mumps, etc. One of the most rewarding things about seeing Why? is watching the band grow. Every time around it seems like there's a new member or some new element that wasn't there the time before. In this case the touring line-up has ballooned from a trio to a sextet and now boasts a full-time second drummer/xylophonist and two lady multi-instrumentalists who added the most sublime harmonies all night long.

Why? opened with a total reworking of Oaklandazulasylum's "Dirty Glass" with Yoni Wolf strategically not onstage. It was like some sort of gorgeous overture designed to showcase the immense sonic depth the band has to offer. Something that is often overshadowed by Wolf's lyrical prowess, and watching the new ladies sing a song so pretty I thought it had to be a cover. While the audience was dazed and swooning, Yoni Wolf took the stage and the band launched into "These Few Presidents," one of the showstoppers from 2008's Alopecia. As the band evolves, their handling of the back catalog morphs too. Seeing songs you know backwards and forwards with a new spin on them is pretty satisfying, especially knowing it could very well be completely different the next time around.

The set list was, as expected, loaded with tracks from Mumps, etc and the recently released Sod in the Seed EP. The music itself was excellent, laced with minimalist keyboard trills, blossoms of xylophone, and had much more in common with the busy-ness Alopecia than Why?'s latest LP -- the somber and scaled back Eskimo Snow. Tracks like "Strawberries," "The Plan," and "Twenty Seven" really nailed it. Unfortunately, Wolf's lyrics didn't really match the excellence of the music that was constructed for the words. Maybe the songs are growers, and maybe this is a way too hasty judgment, but his new stuff seems featherweight and lacking in both cleverness and emotional resonance, especially in contrast to "Fatalist Palmistry" and "Crushed Bones." The melodies were sound; the lyrics just felt slightly... not all there.

Lyrical quibbles aside, Why? still put on a great live show and Yoni Wolf has an amazing stage presence that is worth checking out. Though Why?'s music has drifted into poppier territory, Wolf's hip-hop roots really show through when he's on the microphone. Even when the lyrics in the new songs were substandard, the way he was spitting them was convincing enough to be engaging. For a total weirdo, he certainly possesses an awful lot of charm.

Chicago emcee Serengeti was brilliant in his opening slot and I feel downright embarrassed that I've gone six years without hearing "Dennehy," the chronicle of his fictional protagonist Kenny Dennis' love of Chicago sports, bratwurst, O'Doul's, and his wife Juelz. "Dennehy" coupled with "The Whip," -- a surprisingly affecting tale of a fictional UFC fighter -- were reason enough to pick up his latest full-length C.A.R. Yoni Wolf's Anticon cohort and former cLOUDDEAD bandmate Adam "Doseone" Drucker followed, and basically sucked all of the awesome energy out of the room with his bizarre and flagrantly self-important set of dance music that felt alienating for the sake of alienation. It certainly doesn't help to take the stage and insult the audience by saying they "looked like LeVar Burton out there during that last set." What does that even mean? Was that a knock against Reading Rainbow? Roots? Star Trek: The Next Generation? Is it a commonly held opinion that LeVar Burton doesn't do enough head bobbing at hip-hop shows? I guess I'll never know.

Critic's Bias: On more than one occasion I've imagined how awesome an opera based on Why? songs would be.

The Crowd: All ages and mostly college kids but I couldn't take my eyes off the guy in the Misfits shirt and trucker hat who kept doing some serious "I'm at a fucking HIP HOP SHOW" dancing. Even during the quiet songs! This eventually evolved into a sort of hilarious pantomime that he did with his friend who was standing mannequin still the whole time.

Overheard in the Crowd: "I can't listen to this fuckin' bullshit." -Dude exiting the auditorium two songs into Doseone.

Random Notebook Dump: Persistent guy making Doseone and Serengeti take photos with him like three times because he can't get the composition just right or something. When did iPhones get flashes that bright?

Set List
Dirty Glass
These Few Presidents
Jonathan's Hope
Brook and Waxing
The Hollows
The Plan
Probable Cause
Twenty Seven
A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under
Crushed Bones
The Vowels Pt. 2
Paper Hearts
Simeon's Dilemma

Fatalist Palmistry
By Torpedo or Chron's

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