Thursday, October 16, 2008

Andrew WK: May 15 2008 -or- Belated Joy

This has been lying around for almost 6 months now. Here, for the sake of completeness, is a review of Andrew W.K.'s show at the New Museum from last May.

Andrew W.K.
May 15, The New Museum, New York, NY

From the crowd, which varied from the type of 20 somethings (I shy away from any term making use of "hip" or "thou") whose clothes make you a little uncomfortable to sexagenarian performance art enthusiasts, the event announcements, which admitted "we really have no idea what this performance will be like," to the performance space, a grand piano and practice guitar amplifier surrounded on 3 sides by bleacher like seats and more intimately by floor cushions for close up appreciation, it was apparent that I was not the only one feeling a bit unclear as to what to expect when faced with an Andrew W.K. performance in an art museum in 2008.

And, well, rightly so. The man himself often seems oddly divorced from the music he made his name with - a soft spoken proponent of positive thinking and friendship who performs songs like "Ready To Die" (of his own creation, not the Unicorns or B.I.G.) in a quasi-metal growl. Especially now that some of his most recent work has been production a Lee "Scratch" Perry and Sightings.

In the end, while those who came hoping for dub, sonic experimentation, or a surprise full band run through of I Get Wet may have gone home disappointed, Mr. W.K.'s performance should have pleased everyone else. Though the show was billed as a solo performance, Andrew arrived with Matt Sweeney, a guitar, and a drum machine. With little introduction, the two launched into a blues number over which Andrew sang a bunch of seemingly nonsensical lyrics, which eventually coalesced into chants about milk.

Andrew then confirmed that he and Sweeney would be improvising, and they continued to do just that, playing songs, all relatively blues based and backed by drum machine, with lyrical topics ranging from love, to turtles, to food and gaining weight. All of this served to confirm what everyone in attendance should have already known. Andrew W.K. can do no wrong, and will always succeed, albeit through some backwards means, at everything he attempts. A recording of these improvisations surely would be underwhelming - as you can argue Andrew's records are - but that's not the point. As Andrew himself stated later on in the show, music, or at least his music, is about the experience of the moment and nothing else.

Following the improvisations, Sweeney left and Andrew ran through 4 or 5 of his hits accompanied by a backing track and the shouting, flailing and encouragement of any audience members brave enough to step within his 4 or 5 foot arm and hair swinging radius of affection and joy. If you didn't like "Party Hard" before, this performance wouldn't have changed your mind, but if you even kinda liked it, it became your favorite song of all time for its entire duration.

The 15 or so kids who formed a maypole-dance-like circle around the piano during one of the numbers attests to the fact that Andrew W.K. is one of the few performers seemingly to still be able to turn a crowd of jaded 20 year olds back into excited teenagers. Which is why, when at the closing of the show he claimed never to have experienced anything exactly like this particular concert, you could sense that he was being less than totally honest for the first time in the evening. Joy is every day with Andrew W.K.

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At Thu Oct 16, 03:57:00 PM, Blogger zbs said...

I randomly witnessed the Andrew WK treatment at a free-ish, unpublicized show at Cake Shop; which consisted of his solo performance of covers called out by the crowd (The Boss, Queen, Mellencamp?). To my surprise I also smoked with him and witnessed his remarkable generosity toward the fans. He was absorbed with the eager-faced, sober guys who drove up from Pennsylvania on the rumor that this random show would happen (and manifestly had no interest in the other acts that night). And spent his time inscribing wordy dedications for his autographs and discussing his various projects at length. This was somewhat to the dismay of the booker, the club owner, the sound guy, and the assorted other incidentals who might have been traditionally expected to be closer to the center of attention on such an occasion, especially for a star of his relative magnitude.


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