It could be easy to dismiss Wye Oak as another band for the denim shirt crowd—mellow, buttery dream-folk churned to the point of blandness. But the Baltimore duo, who played at Warsaw in Greenpoint Tuesday night, have some seriously un-bland musical chops—they’re kind of a reverse White Stripes, and that’s a good thing. Where The White Stripes had grit and a lack of polish, Wye Oak sound and look totally put together, as if they’ve walked out of a J Crew catalogue, if J Crew was trying to lean into the indie musician angle this season.
Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner have been making music together for 10 years, so their on stage collaboration is truly comfortable. Musically, they finish each others’ sentences. Andy keeps the rhythm rolling, simultaneously playing synths with one hand and drumming with the other, while Jenn is the mouthpiece for the band (Andy isn’t even mic’d) and shreds on the guitar. The pair are truly making gender-balanced rock: even though the vocals are female, their music isn’t feminine. Most of the time Jenn’s voice is melting into the back of the soundscape, creating a lush, oceany resonance. And when her voice isn’t buried back there, she sounds like a nymph-like ghost. It’s haunting, romantic and powerful music.
Their set ranged from some of their older harder-rocking songs to some of their newer hazy and synthy stuff, with a dash of blues and folk. Wye Oak’s musical references are vast and their range is wide, so their un-genre is actually what defines them. Their latest, Tween, was just released a few weeks ago and their diverse back catalogue is also a beautiful opus worth a solid listen.
What’s cool about Warsaw as a venue is that it’s not that huge; the shows there are fairly intimate and the lighting and stage setup usually minimal, which was the case Tuesday night. The sound isn’t that full and the mix isn’t fantastic, but it doesn’t matter; you’re seeing the band stripped down to their basics. If they wouldn’t sound great playing a high school gymnasium, they probably won’t sound great at Warsaw. But Wye Oak ripped through a gorgeous performance that aligned with the venue’s simplicity.
Jenn called out the vintage bell-shaped disco ball hanging in the center of the room, and said venue workers had told her there were few of that style disco ball ever made, and one of the other ones went down with the Titanic. Which made me think, if Wye Oak was playing while I was going down on a sinking luxury cruise line, I’d be pretty ok with it.
Warsaw | 261 Driggs Avenue | Greenpoint