I suppose what threw me off was the billing. The advertisements said “solo performance by Andrew W.K.” rather than his full band. But leave it to Mr. W.K. to require nothing more than a Roland keyboard, a few microphones and a straight man in the form of someone known only as “Krenshaw” to bring the party.
Clearly this was going to be a very different affair from the last time I saw him — a collaborative performance at a civilized Brookline theater with the uber-classy Calder Quartet. Though the headbangers were in full attendance that evening, they were joined by an equal portion of genuinely baffled symphony subscribers, in unfamiliar if not hostile territory. Tonight, I was on their turf.
In addition to being somewhat of an Andrew W.K. virgin, it was also my first time at Cuisine en Locale, a Somerville-based caterer specializing in (quite delicious) locally sourced foods. As it happens they’re also a bar, restaurant and concert venue. At first, I thought the show was to be upstairs in their cozy ONCE Lounge, but was confused by the solitary drum set on the small dance floor. As it happened, the show was downstairs in the ballroom. In retrospect, it was an incongruous sort of venue for what was to transpire, amidst its elegant carpet, dance floor and chandeliers. But for this unique triple-band lineup, presented by the Keynote Company, it felt just like home.
Mike Woo’s Raging Bone was virile and relentless, pounding away hard and keeping it up through a panting and breathless set. This exceptionally hard-rocking hardcore quintet is paradoxically from the North Shore, but don’t let that fool you. And don’t think that they’re all muscle and no method. Beneath that hard, brute force exterior is some mighty fine skill.
After the furious pace of the Raging Bone, CMB (Casey Desmond’s latest project) felt like an exotic hand-rolled smoke in a silver and tortoise shell cigarette holder, savored while lounging on a red velvet divan. She was exquisite. Well-known among the Boston music community and progeny of local music legends Bill and Katherine Desmond, Desmond is a real life goddess. She took us all on a magic carpet ride to distant galaxies. A woman armed with an ethereal voice, a Mac laptop and a bunch of twiddly knobs is a dangerous weapon indeed.
Finally, it was time for the main attraction. The festivities began with a motivational warm-up, a sort of rock ‘n’ roll party pep rally. A siren wails and the police are called in to investigate. A party is about to begin, and we’re all invited.
“Tonight is about all of the positive feelings. Tonight, all of the people here are all friends. Tonight is about having the best night of your life.”
When Andrew bounces in, all enthusiasm and smiles and biceps, dressed head to toe in white like a maniacal Mr. Clean, delirium ensues and all bets are off. From the opening notes of “It’s Time To Party,” we all become a violently churning singular living organism, throbbing and pulsating with life force. W.K. and his wing-man Krenshaw, more an insane asylum court jester than a backup singer, roughhouse their way through classics and massive audience favorites from I Get Wet.
It was an exhilarating, exhausting and life-affirming aerobic exercise — a full mind, body, soul and ears workout. The sound system, suitable for a room ten times the size of this 300 capacity ballroom, bellowed out W.K. and Krenshaw’s athletic antics while the crowd barked, brayed and cheered in appreciative response.
Three or four songs in, it was fast becoming too much of a good thing, and my eyes darted madly around me, wondering if anyone knew the safeword.
I decided to move — no, actually I physically hurled myself to the left, letting the circular motion of the human whirlpool eventually deposit me at a breathable distance. Photographic evidence proved difficult if not impossible under such circumstances, but video footage tells the story. Mixed into the breathless collection of powerful party anthems was their cover of his friend Aleister X’s “Bangers and Beans.”
Andrew W.K. is one of a kind, a genuinely unique entertainer (and some might even say educator). One third hardcore headbanger, one third motivational speaker (brilliantly demonstrated in this recent article of his Village Voice column) and, though it’s not heralded as it should be, one third extremely accomplished and classically trained pianist.
Indeed, I could have quite happily listened to Mr. W.K.’s mad scientist ministrations on that Roland synth for hours. Now that’s a party.
And just in case there was any confusion about where they were performing this evening, W.K. altered the lyrics to “I Love NYC” in loving tribute to this special occasion, to the delight of everyone in attendance.
It was a crazy and rambunctious scene, but a supportive one. When one of the many crowd surfers had a rough landing near me, everyone rushed to his aid. He was fine. Adrenaline and endorphins, raucousness and rock ‘n’ roll — the perfect, maybe even the only, way to spend a Friday night.
If all this sounds like your idea of a good time, I have great news for you. Andrew W.K. is about to embark on a big tour which will comprise solo appearances like Somerville, full band extravaganzas at festivals and even a few lectures.
Check it out! And Party Hard!
Andrew W.K. Tour
8/30 Denver, CO – National Western Complex – Riot Fest (full band)
9/2 Fargo, ND – The Aquarium (Dempseys Upstairs) (solo)
9/3 Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock Social Club (solo)
9/5 Kalamazoo, MI – Audiotree Music Festival (full band)
9/6 New Albany, IN – The Rustic Frog, Befuddled Festival (solo)
9/7 Columbia, MO – Rose Music Hall (solo)
9/9 Nashville, TN – Exit In (solo)
9/10 Charlotte, NC – Neighborhood Theater (solo)
9/11 Columbus, OH – A&R Music Bar (solo)
9/13 Chicago, IL – Douglas Park – Riot Fest (full band)
9/15 Birmingham, AL – Saturn (solo)
9/16 Atlanta, GA – Terminal West (solo)
9/18 Toledo, OH – Frankies (solo)
9/20 Toronto, ONT, Canada – Downsview Park – Riot Fest (full band)
10/10 Los Angeles, CA – Shrine Expo Hall & Grounds (solo)
10/12 Edmonton, AB, Canada – The Starlite Room (solo)
10/13 Calgary, AB, Canada – Nite Owl (solo)
10/15 Winnipeg, MB, Canada – Pyramid Cabaret (solo)
10/17 Des Moines, IA – Vaudeville Mews (solo)
10/17 Des Moines, IA – Iowa Historical Building (lecture)
11/1 Gainesville, FL – Lot 10 – FEST 14 (full band)
11/8 Austin, TX – Fun Fun Fun Fest (lecture)