Arriving at VENUE at 7:30pm, I was surprised to see a nearly empty room. It was Saturday night, and it was to be an early show — get the concert out of the way so there’s still time to go clubbing later. The opener, Los Angeles rapper Open Mike Eagle, was supposed to be starting his set, but the stage was empty, except for four piles of equipment draped in canvas. The rest of the room was sparsely populated by the few who actually pay attention to door times.
Wandering around the near empty nightclub, I overheard a few fragmented conversations about the sorry state of the show thus far: “Didn’t make it into Canada … No opener tonight, I guess … I heard he forgot his passport … I wonder when they’ll start…”
Over the course of the next hour, the stage remained devoid of Open Mike Eagle, but the crowd slowly accumulated, and the room filled with artificial fog. By the time 8:30pm rolled around, a surge of bodies pushed to the front, shoulders bumping to get that special spot at centre stage.
A few stage hands pulled the canvas sheets off the stage, revealing a drum kit and three towers of keyboards, drum pads, and synths, all adorned with a few incandescent light bulbs. The lights dropped and Why? strode out on stage, each of the four members planting themselves behind their respective stations on stage.
Without a word, they jumped into “This Ole King,” the first track on their latest record Moh Lhean. The lights exploded through the dense fog that surrounded them, creating vast swathes of vibrant and ever-shifting colour, with the light bulbs intermittently flicking on as bright spots across the stage. After ploughing through a few songs without pause, frontman Yoni Wolf addressed the crowd for the first time. “Thanks for coming out Vancouver. And sorry about Mike Eagle — he didn’t make it into the country. He’s in Bellingham in a Motel 6 with all our drugs. We’ll go collect him later on tonight.”
Being someone who has never really delved any deeper into Why?’s music than their masterful second album, Alopecia, I was surprised to see so many people around me sing along to every song they played, old and new. Of course, the ones that garnered the most enthusiastic response from the crowd were the tracks from Alopecia, like “Song Of The Sad Assassin,” and “The Vowels Pt. 2.” But the rest of the set, drawn from every corner of their extensive catalogue, matched those classic tracks in energy and style.
Doug McDiarmid and Matt Meldon somehow managed to fill out each of the songs’ instrumentals, despite the incredible vastness of sounds and samples crammed into each. Josiah Wolf, drummer and Yoni’s younger brother, held down Why?’s signature complex and hard-hitting beats with an impressive display of technical drumming. Yoni Wolf completed the sound with his impressionistic and imagistic lyrics delivered in the unique speak-sing style of rapping that the band is known for.
Despite hours of waiting beforehand, Why? truly exceeded any expectations I might have had. Their performance, and the crowd’s unrelenting excitement made me want to go home and explore even deeper into their discography — or I could just stick to Alopecia.