Screams reverberated through the room as Yoni Wolf of Why? took to the stage at Neumos. A young girl reached up to hand him a yellow daffodil, a simple and touching gesture. A long way from his beginnings co-founding the hip-hop underground Anticon collective of Berkeley, CA, Yoni has reached legendary status among young indie enthusiasts of the day.
Despite this budding idolization, Yoni maintains an approachable and down to earth demeanor, chatting with fans and responding in person on his Facebook page. Perhaps his self deprecating lyrics make listeners feel welcomed, privy to his clever poetry, and his blend of indie hip-hop folk appeals to listeners looking for something outside the norm.
His early contributions to Anticon bands like Reaching Quiet, cLOUDDEAD, Greenthink, and Lex Records’ Hymie’s Basement collaboration with Andrew Broder of Fog were far more rap centric. His early solo work was released under the name Why?, but since 2005’s Elephant Eyelash, the moniker has referred to the entire band. Subsequent releases have included Alopecia (2008), Eskimo Snow (2009), and the current Mumps, Etc. (2012). Eskimo Snow departed greatly from the band’s hip-hop undertones, feeling out of place and slightly unresolved. Mumps, Etc. reintroduced rap elements, a return to form but also an expansion of the band’s style through female harmonies and added instrumentation. Josiah and new addition Ben Sloane’s ricocheting, interwoven drums offered a strong backbone for Yoni’s lyrics to take hold. Also new to the group, Sarah Winters offered additive keys and lush vocal harmonies; new elements of intrigue to Mumps, Etc. standouts “Bitter Thoughts,” and “Distance.”
Liz Wolf, keyboardist for Why? and wife of drummer Josiah, opened the night with her solo effort Dream Tiger, a delicately-woven set of introspective synth and roomy drums. The project, recalling shades of trip-hop sensibilities layered with wraith-like vocals, is Wolf’s six-year labor of love. At times Neumos’ overwhelming bass muddied her vocals, but Wolf had everyone in her charming grasp. For her closer, Wolf covered Janet Jackson’s R&B floor-filler “Control.” She foregoes Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ knee-jerk synth stabs, opting for sultry, plucked instrumentation and pace-pushing drum sequencing. The self-titled Dream Tiger album is only available at shows for the time being.
Sporting an edgy fade and a smattering of Memento-esque tattoos, Florida’s Astronautalis (Charles Andrew Bothwell) was up next with his fiery rap rock anthems. His opening track, “Set Yourself on Fire,” felt like punk’s answer to a hip-hop slam. Raspy vocals, guitar and expansive drums swayed between heady rap and indie rock, echoing artists as diverse as Sage Francis, Modest Mouse, and Macklemore.
The latter resemblance became the joke of the set when a heckler called out, “You look like Macklemore!” and Bothwell responded, “Yeah, we’re both white guys with sharp haircuts!” Later, he asked the crowd, “How many of you have heard me before?” A sizeable crowd screamed. “How many of you have no f***ing clue who I am and think that I’m Macklemore?” The crowd burst into laughter and a few people jokingly screamed.
Bothwell lived in Seattle for a time, recounting stories of late night jaunts around the city. His lyrics felt overly preachy at times, a common criticism of fellow Seattle-ite Macklemore. Bothwell gained the crowd’s allegiance with topic-based freestyles spanning “Comic-Con,” “Stuart Stevens and Mitt Romney end world hunger”, “red pants” and “cum”. He swiftly recommended the cum-suggesters research his native Florida rap staples 2 Live Crew and 69 Boyz. He later satiated the jokesters, killing two birds with one stone, adlibbing that the Macklemore-heckler was “covered in semen.” In a nod to his look-alike, he sang, “You can call me Macklemore ‘cause that’s my boy and I respect the kid.” Much like Dream Tiger, the vocals occasionally suffered under mounds of bass, but Astronautalis’ skillful genre mixing was undeniable.
Surrounded by his five band mates, Yoni paced back and forth or in a circle, breaking into goofy dance moves and gesticulating along with his lyrics. He often looked to his brother Josiah on drums, smiling as they got into a groove. Other longtime band member Doug McDiarmid stood steadfast, adding guitar, bass, and the occasion vocal harmonies. The two humored one another, Yoni demanding notes for Doug to play and then joking, “I have perfect bitch.”
Yoni’s raps may seem eccentric or overly plaintive at times, but Mumps, Etc. is a truly personal confessional, a masterpiece of one man’s deepest thoughts.
January Twenty Something
Yo Yo Bye Bye
By Torpedo or Crohn’s
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The Vowels, Pt. 2
In honor of The Postal Service reuniting for the 10th anniversary of “Give Up,” here is an excellent DNTEL Remix of “By Torpedo or Crohn’s”: