“Blowin’ kisses to disinterested bitches/Playing lead lay in a bad way on Broadway/Sending sexy SMS’ to my ex’s new man/’cause I can.”
Why? has traversed through hip-hop’s edgy and dark, carelessly profane, daily and mundane quarters with great intention and poise. Each album they release seems to reflect natural changes: 2005’s debut Elephant Eyelash is impressive but raw and hazily recorded—a first record right by the likes of lyricists Modest Mouse and The Mountain Goats. 2008’s Alopecia sounds like higher production value and well composed indie rock backdrops. 2009’s Eskimo Snow continues into their self-declared “least hip-hop out of anything” album, and most recently 2012’s Mumps, etc. makes a fantastically welcome return to a concise and flowing rap album.
The Berkeley, Calif., collective Why? clings to all forms and varieties during a live performance, something America has seen a lot of in 2012 and the start of 2013. These frequent tours provide a good range of setlist flexibility for the band, making the show less about promoting an album and more about playing whatever they want.
This might be why these six stage members played one of the most solid sets in their genre. They chose popular favorites and fan secrets in equal proportions; lead singer and writer Yoni Wolf slow-bopping along with each one. Two drummers with additional xylophone kits faced each other on the stage’s edges, while two bassists and a keyboardist resided and rotated near the back curtains of Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. Yoni raps with a distinct monotone and oddly fluctuating syllable emphases, and this voice became an instrument of live percussion. His highly unique, alternative hip-hop style creates a great divide among market fans. Many that allow his taste to grow on them find a lyrical depth to be grateful for.
Why? revolves around verbosity and imagery through lyrics. “Bitter Thoughts” belts, “Down pinned on the floor/Trading places with my shadow/A pallid sallow corpse for a rising hell to swallow.” Their rhymes describe moments of feeling more often than they tell narrative stories. The precision of these underrepresented moments by simile or other is what makes Why? so great at connecting with audiences. Each word is so intelligently chosen; Yoni has mastered the verbal art of capturing small but vivid slices of life we might not have ever thought to describe. “And when a thing starts finishing around me/I faint or fake a mustache, an accent, or flee/In fear my expired license be pulled by sheer proximity/No longer be ashamed and hide my tears in shower water while I lather for pleasure.” A sterling honesty appears in every song. This evening’s crowd sang loudly along to “Yo Yo Bye Bye” from their early years, “We have to change if we’re gonna stay together…”
The night ended with an a cappella encore by Yoni and an uplifting full band performance of “A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under.” Yoni assumes such concentration during a live show that it often looks theatrical; he held his mic cord like it was brushing the peak of an ill-placed stage puddle. His hand guided his expressionistic flow and his goofy straight-faced looks left plenty of room for curiosities about his eccentric personality. Why? puts on a show full of words that stir in the ears of fans who came to digest them, and their Chicago show seemed to do just that.
Why? at Lincoln Hall on Feb. 21, 2013 setlist:
- “Good Friday”
- “January Twenty Something”
- “Bitter Thoughts”
- “Sod in the Seed”
- “Jonathan’s Hope”
- “Brook and Waxing”
- “Yo Yo Bye Bye”
- “The Blackest Purse”
- “Crushed Bones”
- “A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under”