WHY? – Tickets – The Sinclair – Cambridge, MA – February 7th, 2018
Open Mike Eagle
Wed, February 7, 2018
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pmThe Sinclair
$20 advance / $23 day of show
This event is 18 and over
The Sinclair is general admission standing room only. Tickets available at AXS.COM, or by phone at 855-482-2090. No service charge on tickets purchased in person at The Sinclair Box office Wednesdays-Saturdays 12-7PM.https://www.sinclaircambridge.com/event/1589945/
A low tone opens the album on "This Ole King" as acoustic pluck and upright bass form a Western bedrock beneath Wolf's fragile voice. But as the song pushes on, the playing gets brighter and the vocal becomes a mantra-like hum inspired by Ali Farka Touré's blues, before rolling into a second part rich with chiming keys and twisting harmony—Brian Wilson's kaleidoscopic vision of pop. If there's new litheness here, it's probably because Wolf spent much of the time between albums collaborating—with ex/muse Anna Stewart as the fuzz-pop duo Divorcee, and MC Serengeti as the puckishly depressive Yoni & Geti. And if there's a lithe newness, it may be that Wolf excised some nostalgia via his 2014 solo tapes—one re-recording choice raps from his own catalog, and another covering cuts by artists like Bob Dylan and Pavement. It's no wonder, then, that "The Water" handily morphs a moody folk tune into some strange new form of full-band dub. Or that "One Mississippi" bounces along happily over a flurry of bizarre percussion, whistled melodies, and trippy synthesizer blips. Perhaps most impressive is "Consequence of Nonaction," which vacillates between a quiet meditation for guitar/voice/clarinet, and wild, sax-strewn astral art-funk.
Movement is a key theme of Moh Lhean. It's a breakup album without a romantic interest—coded within the lyrics is a tale about fleeing the seductions of a wintry figure for something synonymous with spring. "Easy" plays like a ward against the old ghost who haunts "January February March," while "George Washington" places our host in a tiny watercraft, "paddling for land/hand on heart and heart in hand" as that faceless malevolent force stays ashore. While writing these songs, Wolf suffered a severe health scare far from home. Rather than drive him to depression, his brush with mortality imparted an incongruous impression of peace and connection to the living. At the end of "Proactive Evolution," wherein WHY? enlists mewithoutYou's Aaron Weiss to celebrate the stubborn persistence of humankind, Wolf samples not only thinkers like Sharon Salzberg and Ram Dass, but his actual doctors—the voices that helped shape his new outlook. Sure, Wolf poses as many questions as ever. Moh Lhean's gorgeously psychedelic closer, "The Barely Blur" with Son Lux, puzzles over the nature of existence. But rather than leave us with the macabre chill of death, as many a WHY? LP has, the song dissolves into the infinite—the sound of the Big Bang.
Don't bother asking Wolf what "Moh Lhean" means. He won't tell you. It's the name of his home studio, where friends and family—WHY? regulars Josiah, Matt Meldon, Doug McDiarmid, Liz Wolf, and Ben Sloan, plus a handful of Ohioans—gathered to record this (and also at Josiah's studio, dubbed El Armando). And like the titles of Alopecia and Mumps, Etc., it references a concrete thing that Wolf experienced. Most likely it's something to do with letting go, rebirth, coming home to a familiar feeling, or venturing out to discover a new one. Or maybe it's just a yoga pose. But there's something in Moh Lhean, even with all its mysteries and all its differences, that's both ephemeral and distinctive, like something the Wolf Brothers might've heard on a praise album in their father's synagogue as kids, or on some '60s hippie LP they thrifted in their teens, or, perhaps, on the other side of the records they've been making their entire adult lives. Thus, it seems appropriate to conclude with some words sung on the very first song of WHY?'s sixth album, Moh Lhean: "One thing, there is no other. Only this, there is no other.... Just layers of this one thing."
On this descent into the digital trenches, Eagle teams up with British producer, Paul White for Hella Personal Film Festival. Released on Mello Music Group, the full collaboration finds White behind the boards, conjuring a psychedelic strain of soul-funk, booming drums, and 21st century crate-digging in tropical attics of the imagination. On the microphone, the Chicago-bred, LA-based, Eagle artfully breaks down the banalities and perils of the modern condition.
Recorded in London, Hella Personal Film Festival continues where his 2014 masterpiece, Dark Comedy left off. It’s anxiety-riddled but whimsical, addicted to and scornful of social media, stuffed with old wrestling in-jokes and film snippets. Self-aware admissions blend into attacks on societal double standards.
Known for alchemical solo work and collaborations with Danny Brown, Homeboy Sandman, and Mos Def, this is White’s first proper union with Eagle. The two artists bonded over the notion of diversity. The process started out with rough demos, which White ended up finishing in post-production—playing guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, percussion and pieces of wood found in a forest. Its genius ultimately comes from the pair mining a deep vein of emotional content—a discussion of the things we feel that you don’t say. A movie that hits so accurately it’s almost uncomfortable.
These are tense anthems for the vulnerable, consecrations to black people with rich internal lives, agnostic prayers for those grappling with pain. They’re emotional landmines leavened by the wry bleakness usually only found in great stand-up comedians. Eagle exists in the lineage of They Might Be Giants and Richard Pryor, Freestyle Fellowship and his longtime friend and collaborator, Hannibal Burress.
Within the first act, the plot becomes clear. See “Admitting the Endorphin,” where Eagle raps, “I chase my poison tail and get so high that voices fail.” These are the movies he’d make it he knew how to make movies. Surreal vignettes about waking up with burrito hangovers in hotels you don’t recognize, wondering if you remembered to charge your phone. Aesop Rock and Hemlock Ernst (Sam Herring of Future Islands) pop up as fellow travelers.
No one is better than Eagle at capturing the nauseous disorientation of day-to-day life. The deluge of sports highlights, unread texts and Twitter notifications. The compulsive need to check your phone at red lights and pauses in conversation. But his incisiveness extends far beyond observational humor. “Smiling (Quirky Race Doc)” examines the slights and casual bigotry of daily interaction. “A Short About a Guy That Dies Every Night” is a morbid rumination on death.
These are the returns after long dark nights of the soul. When the noises are loud, the lights are off, and the armor is pierced. Short films that loop over and over again, as soon as you close your eyes.
52 Church St
Cambridge, MA, 02138