Thus far in my 24 years of life, I’ve never really seen a more unique, or in my mind, brilliant artist than Andrew W. K. Ever since he showed up in 2001 with the song PARTY HARD and his debut album I Get Wet, he’s always been one of my favorites. Not only is his music awesome and insanely fun, but his live shows are even better. A show of his that I saw in 2004 in San Francisco is hands-down the best concert I’ve ever been to in my life, and anyone who knows me can say that is saying A LOT. I was kicked in the face by a crowdsurfer within the first five minutes of the show, but the insanity going on onstage made me not care about that; the stage was flooded with people dancing and moshing with Andrew and others were swinging off the rafters of the tiny little shack called the Pound where the show took place. It was amazing.
Well, after a few years of inactivity (at least here in the US), Andrew stopped by the Largo at the Coronet on Thursday night….with a STRING QUARTET. When I first heard about this tour I was really anxious to see how he was going to perform with a string quartet instead of some big hairy rock band that I’ve seen him play with before.
Well, I’ll be honest. It’s hard to put into words just how mind-blowing the show at the Largo was.
I’m not much for classical music. I don’t really listen to it, and I don’t go partake in orchestral symphony performances in stuffy concert halls. Andrew and the Calder Quartet, though, made me a fan.
They handed out programs at the door with a list of the songs they were supposed to play, but Andrew said they weren’t sticking to the list since it was the last day of this mini-tour. On the list were a few segments called “Spontaneous piano improvisation”. He just released an album called ’55 Cadillac that is just that – spontaneous piano music that he composed and wrote WHILE RECORDING, without any previous practice or rehearsal. Doing things like this are what make me love the man so much; it’s so weird and creative and just awesome.
They started off with some Bach and then things got really bizarre. Andrew pretended to lose the rhythm with the band and he sat at the piano bench, a look of confusion and frustration on his face. He smashed the ivories a few more times, then mouthed the microphone, grunting inaudible noises into it and proceeded to CLIMB INSIDE THE PIANO. He must have cut his thumb in the process, since he was bleeding and wiped it on his white pants, half of his requisite outfit of white pants/white shirt.
The Calder Quartet played a couple tunes or movements or whatever they’re called in classical music terms without Andrew, but he sat at the piano bench intently watching, bobbing his head with each stroke of the bow with a herky jerky motion that was as funny as it was rhythmic. He would occasionally smash a few keys along with the strings, as well as reach into the piano itself and pluck the keys from the inside. It was so damn cool.
After the intermission, Andrew and his team of seasoned vets came back out and played some more tunes. Andrew took a few minutes to talk to us, the crowd, in which he emphasized just how awestruck they were at our reaction and the experience they’ve had on this tour.
They played some songs from Andrew’s back catalog, including Long Live the Party, I Love New York City, Victory Strikes Again (I believe) and, of course, Party Hard. This segment of the set was the best by far, as it was basically just as chaotic and ridiculous as the normal band version of the songs would be. Andrew started mashing the piano, kicking the stool out from behind him and stretching out, which looked hilarious. Then he came out to the front of the stage and encouraged us to get up and dance, which some people did. Some went on stage (always a highlight of every Andrew W. K. show I’ve been to) and created this hectic mosh dance party that somehow avoided crashing into the piano and the musicians.
Andrew was the ringleader of this circus of badass-ity, and at the end of the run of his own songs the band “played” John Cage’s infamous "4’33" piece, in which the musicians just sit still for minutes on end. I’ve heard this is a very popular piece and probably was designed by John Cage to say some puffed-up statement about music performance in general, by just sitting there in silence and confusing the audience. That’s what happened here, as the moshers on stage just stood there, waiting for Andrew to start kicking things and punching the piano, but it never came. It was simply brilliant to switch from the crazy Party Hard songs to this subdued exercise in patience.
At the end of what felt like 15 minutes of the Cage piece, Andrew yelled “thank you goodnight!” and the band left. Just he and one of the musicians came back out for an encore, which was Andrew interpretively dancing to a piece by JS Bach. It was just as strange as I could have possibly hoped it would be.
In all, this was an absolutely jaw-dropping performance by a truly visionary artist. He really made the performance his own, with his little quirky idiosyncrasies and innovative performing style (crawling into pianos, lustily breathing into the microphone) that helped make the evening one of the most creative and thought-provoking things I’ve ever witnessed.
I’ve loved everything he’s done since I heard about him eight years ago, even though some of it is considerably “out there”. He is a totally captivating presence onstage, giving absolutely everything he possibly has to each second, designed to make us all enjoy ourselves and have a good time. That’s all he cares about, having fun and ensuring that we all do too. It’s hard to not get caught up in the negativity or harsh realities of life, but Andrew W. K. tries his damndest to make us forget about all that crap and just go wild.
After the show I waited around with a small crowd and met him for the third time in my life. Off-stage, he’s hands-down one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and is thoroughly engaging in conversation. Everyone left with a huge smile on his or her face, and at the end of the night that’s what Andrew was going for. He exists to make us feel better about life, and it shows in his performances.
He told me that his full-band shows will be coming soon, as will a US release (finally) of his previously Japan and Korea-only album Close Calls with Brick Walls, which he said should be out in January or February. If you haven’t ever seen his real rock show, then you’d better get your ass out to one of them when he comes back into town.
If it sounds like I’ve been building him up a lot in this review, it’s because I have. He is without a doubt one of my absolute favorite musicians I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve just honestly never seen anyone like him or any live show that comes close. No one else is able to capture such joy and outright bliss and reproduce it onstage in such a fun party atmosphere.
Andrew W. K. rules. End of story.
Here are some videos so you can see the amazingness for yourself.