By Sabeena N. Singhani, Staff Writer
On Saturday, Apr. 15, Why? took the stage at Irving Plaza after their opener Eskimeaux brought the ever-increasing crowd alive with her song “Power.” Eskimeaux frontwoman Gabrielle Smith prefaced her set with “I just told my parents I used to hang out here when I was fifteen.” The native New York artist truly primed the audience, hitting them with lyrics like “Wish I could love you less like a praying mantis / Rip your head off every time.”
As her set gently came to a close, the crowd stood ready for Why? for an unanticipated forty-five minutes. But when singer Yoni Wolf climbed onto stage, the crowd became full and vibrant. Wolf opened with “Easy” off their 2017 album “Moh Lhean.” The name of the album, as with album titles in the past such as “Alopecia” and “Mumps, Etc.,” seems to be left mostly unexplained but still reflective of Wolf’s experiences with Crohn’s disease among other hardships.
The start of the show was gentle, with lines like “I put you in a mantra, meditate /’Cause we got history / And it’s no mystery / Breathe in and out and go easy.” Wolf sat at the piano stage left, his band creating a semicircle around a space in the middle looking as if an interpretive dance piece corresponding with the music was about to ensure. But to no avail, as after their song “These Few Presidents,” Wolf surged towards center space, adding his spirit to the still-slightly awkward setup. The stage itself was strange as well, covered in gorgeous Edison bulbs that came to life during each track, scattering their light across the band’s instruments. This innovation with lighting has been done more intensely by bigger artists such as Coldplay and Lady Gaga, but Why?’s bulbs ignited slowly, like the flickering of eyelids. Perhaps the imagery created with these hipster props mirrors “Moh Lhean” as a whole, as much of it speaks of rebirth and moving on, a blooming to life and light.
Following “These Few Presidents,” Wolf transitioned into one of his fan favorites, “Strawberries.” The crowd sang along with “Itching like an intern with a sunburn / For what a stone unturned covers.” The crowd’s involvement only continued as the night wore on, breaking into “One Mississippi,” the bulbs flickering on and off with the rising and falling rhythm. A simple arrangement on the album, “One Mississippi” took a very different form within the venue, as the song’s usually powerful drum movements seemed to be lost. This balance shift was also shown in “George Washington,” which was of course was prefaced with “The Longing Is All,” a dramatic combination of sounds building to the next song. “George Washington” is always a calm shift from “The Longing Is All,” but that night it was alive inciting people to mosh to the subtle drum beat. Despite the very different arrangements, the show was more or less consistent with “Moh Lhean,” and the predictability of the song selection but not the arrangement made this show all the more special.
When the set reached its end after three acoustic fan favorites, the security guard nearest to the exit mumbled something about it ending so early. And it had—the show was in total maybe an hour, give or take. Why? seemed to lay it all on Irving Plaza, and maybe they just didn’t have any more to give.
You can check out Why’s most recent album, “Moh Lhean” on Spotify.