Wye Oak at Fine Line, 5/15/14

Wye Oak
With Braids
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis
May 15, 2014

Wye Oak frontwoman Jenn Wasner has mastered the guitar and has moved on to her next musical challenge. After experimenting with glossy electro-pop with her side projects, Flock of Dimes and Dungeonesse, Wasner convinced her Wye Oak bandmate Andy Stack to take their current sound in a more synth-driven direction.

Those shimmering new songs from their new album, Shriek, were featured throughout the Baltimore/Portland duo's 90-minute set at the Fine Line on Thursday night. But the moments when Wasner did pick up her guitar were completely electric, as their older songs sounded massive and raw compared to the vibrant pop sheen of the new material.

See also:
Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner: The choice was between making this record or no record at all

Wasner admitted late in the set that "Performing isn't easy for me, and there was a time when I thought it wouldn't happen again." So this shift in tone and atmospherics has been a matter of survival for her as a songwriter, and the emotions of her new songs are concealed behind a comforting synth-pop veneer. Her stage setup was less guitar, and more bass and keyboard, with Stack's modified drum kit also equipped with a row of synths and keys.

Shriek's three lead-off tracks began the night. Wasner's fuzzed-out bass and Stack kept a reggae-like beat on the quasi-dubstep swing of "The Tower." A simmering, Everything But the Girl-like version of the title track really ignited the set. Wasner strapped on a guitar for rousing versions of "Holy Holy" and "Plains" that sounded even grittier and more cacophonous following the electro-focused start to the show.

Wasner refused to stick with one sound or style for very long, and quickly ditched her guitar and launched into the dynamic, disco-like beat of "Glory," alternating between the bass and keys while adding textured atmospherics to the jubilant chorus. There is clearly some heavy sentiment within "Sick Talk," but Wasner was revealing only what she wanted to throughout the performance, comfortable with that shrouded arrangement even though only half her creative heart was showing at times.

"After those two songs, I need a minute to breathe," Wasner explained while she sipped some water and took a moment to decompose, clearly overcome by the thoughts of whatever inspired the previous numbers. Stack emerged from behind his kit to play bass on a hypnotic version of "Spiral" that was a clear highlight of the set, as Wasner dropped to her knees during an electric solo that added to the track's mercurial edge.
Those untamed moments when Wasner is completely lost in the spirit of the song, swinging her head in time to her riffs -- those moments are what captured our attention in the first place and are the reason why the Fine Line was mostly full on a Thursday. And while we only got occasional flashes of her unguarded during the set, it was enough to keep us all wanting more.

After playfully chiding Stack to "Get back in your corner," Wasner explained, "This song is partly about exactly what I'm doing right now," which gave "Schools of Eyes" a meta, introspective air. The Tears for Fears-esque "Despicable Animal" sounded like it would have fit perfectly in a John Hughes movie, had he lived to make another one. Wasner then let us in to what life on the road is like for a touring musician -- after asking us how we are doing, she responded by sharing, "If you're doing as good as I"m doing, you didn't shower, you didn't sleep very much, you've been wearing the same shirt for the last week and a half, and you ate two-thirds of an entire pizza today. So pretty awesome, I guess."

She rewarded long-time fans by again strapping on her guitar for a triumvirate of "Take It In," "For Prayer," and "That I Do." All were pure fire, fueled by Wasner's blistering guitar work. "We've been playing this next song every night in hopes that it would help bring about the spring, to no avail," Wasner teased in reference to the chilly May night. "I didn't even bring a coat on this tour. Y'all are killing me." A throbbing version of "Hot as Days" followed, but the long set began to drag a bit with the Sade-like R&B of "I Know the Law." A vibrant "Logic of Color" brought the main set to a strong end.

After a brief break, they returned for the encore, and started out with an impassioned cover of  "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush, who is one of Wasner's favorite artists. Most of the young crowd didn't recognize the song, but they certainly knew "Civilian," as they cheered loudly as soon as the first notes of the track kicked in. It was a churning, guitar-fueled version that could have been extended further if Wasner had continued her smoking solo, but the night and the set had grown long at this point, and she and Stack brought the show to a close with a quick wave and a word of thanks. And we were all left wondering what direction Wye Oak might take in the future, because most of us will follow Wasner anywhere at this point.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I've been hooked on Wye Oak since their stellar opening sets for both Shearwater and Lou Barlow at the 400 Bar in 2010.

The Crowd:
A young, good-sized audience who clearly loved them some Jenn Wasner.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Yeah, Wass. Wass so good!"

Notes About the Opener: Montreal trio Braids' 40-minute set drew mainly from their recent record, Flourish // Perish, with a new song thrown in that was inspired by their month-long stay in the Arizona desert. Raphaelle Standell-Preston explained, "This is the only time that we haven't played the 7th St. when we've come here. We thought Minneapolis was only that." Hopefully, the band will return to the Entry for their own headlining set when their new, desert-influenced album is completed.



The Tower


Holy Holy



Sick Talk


Schools of Eyes

Despicable Animal

Take It In

For Prayer

That I Do

Hot As Day

I Know the Law

Logic of Color


Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush)


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