Premier Concerts and Manic Presents:
WHY? Plays Alopecia
295 Treadwell Street
Hamden, CT, 06514
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is all ages
"I'll go unknown by torpedo or Crohn's / Only those evil live to see their own likeness in stone." It's the kind of couplet you'd carve into a wall whilst savoring the irony at hand, but when Yoni Wolf spit the line ten years ago he was blissfully, broodily unaware that he and his band WHY? were creating a career-defining album—one so fan-adored that it would go out of print, and so influential that the art-pop heroine Lorde herself would lovingly steal the very lyric quoted above. When it dropped in 2008, Alopecia not only marked WHY?'s evolution from a sonically collaged mostly solo project to a live-recorded powerhouse band of badass multi-instrumentalists. It also minted a genre of one: wryly written, poignantly posed, simultaneously swaggering and heart-rending song-rap that jangles like folk, bursts like psych-rock, and sways like chamber pop. To this day, there is no other group in the known universe that sounds or feels like WHY? does on Alopecia. The album's 2018 reissue cheekily etches that aural likeness into our musical history.
Revisiting these songs is like catching up with an old, very strange friend—one who obsesses over his mortality, wonders if his ex is some sort of god, identifies as a "lifelong local foreigner," and does his emotional unpacking in public restrooms*. When Yoni sings that he's been "faking suicide for applause in the food courts of malls" on album opener "The Vowels Pt. 2," you aren't sure if it's a metaphor about fame or a real thing he did. Our narrator's odd charm is Alopecia's most enduring gift. Inspired by Bob Dylan and Joanna Newsom, Yoni packs confessional candor and vivid detail into honeyed melodies. Energized by Lil Wayne and MF DOOM, he seeds self-effacing boasts and mesmeric wordplay within complex rhyme schemes. The result is a swirl of humor, desperation, and beauty that both pulls us into his world and draws out our own proud, wounded inner weirdo. As Yoni coos on "The Hollows," "This goes out to dirty-dancing, cursing, backmasking, back-slidden pastors' kids / and all us Earth growths; some planted, some pulled."
That perspective formed in our hero's native Cincinnati—born in the basement of his rabbi dad's synagogue when lil Yoni started making songs on a dusty 4-track, and come of age in a different basement in his college years where, instead of graduating, he teamed with roommate Doseone and pal Odd Nosdam to form the revered avant-rap trio cLOUDDEAD. These family and friends haunt Alopecia—Dose raps on "The Hollows"; Nosdam is namechecked on "A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under"; Yoni's father and the language of faith appear often—creating layers of narrative for WHY?'s typically deep-diving fans to unpack. By 2008, Yoni was settled in Oakland, adding to the legacy of the Anticon label/collective he cofounded (most notably with his official 2003 LP debut Oaklandazulasylum). Though his brother Josiah Wolf and fellow Ohioan Doug McDiarmid moved west and joined WHY? before 2005's Elephant Eyelash, they had not yet recorded as a proper unit, or in a proper studio. Hell, Yoni'd never even tried to make his words rhyme before.
You already know that they did all of those things and were rewarded with Alopecia, an album as adventurous as it is accessible, and remarkably fluid. To wit, "These Few Presidents" slides between modes, from upbeat and forced-smile bubbly to seething and slowly roiling. "Song of the Sad Assassin" is a tempo-blind rollercoaster of piano, vibes, vocal percussion, guitar, drum, and bass. And "Twenty Eight" spins a feedback-drenched rap beat, something like the Bomb Squad on acid, on a carousel. WHY?'s mind meld is all the more impressive considering they left their jerry-rigged home setup for Minneapolis' Third Ear studio, in the winter, and added Fog members Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson to the lineup. Over 20 days, the thermometer never cracked zero. There were hot toddies aplenty, Miles Davis records on repeat, and cramped quarters. In this heady, unfamiliar space, Yoni worried it was all for naught. But while recording "Good Friday," a brutal breakup song, he caught full-body chills. It wasn't the blizzard outside.
The Alopecia sessions were so successful, in fact, that they spawned two LPs (WHY?'s fourth, Eskimo Snow, arrived 18 months later). This one was finished in Berkeley and when time came to name it, Yoni chose a word that appears nowhere in the lyrics. He'd recently found a hole in his beard which his old art-hop comrade Slug of Atmosphere identified as alopecia. The concept fit: more than on any other WHY? release, Yoni was uncovering his anger, anxiety, and ambition—celebrating his ugly by wearing his lowest of lows like badges of honor, devising characters to exorcise his inner demons, and arriving at begrudging self-affirmation. There's a line on "Brook & Waxing," reprised on "By Torpedo or Crohn's," that's become the loudest shout-along moment at WHY? concerts and the most likely quote to find tattooed in the crowd: "While I'm alive I'll feel alive / And what's next I guess I'll know when I've gotten there." Therein lies Alopecia's genius: we'll never get "there," not in 10 years past or 10 years more, but the beauty is in pushing on.
*really, there are no fewer than six bathroom scenes on Alopecia; can you find them all?
On her deeply moving debut album At Weddings, Sarah Beth Tomberlin writes with the clarity and wisdom of an artist well beyond her years. Immeasurable space circulates within the album's ten songs, which set Tomberlin's searching voice against lush backdrops of piano and guitar. Like Julien Baker and Sufjan Stevens, she has a knack for transforming the personal into parable. Like Grouper, she has a feel for the transcendent within the ordinary.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, and now based in Louisville, Kentucky, Tomberlin wrote most of At Weddings while living with her family in southern Illinois during her late teens and early twenties. At 16, she finished her homeschooling curriculum and went to college at a private Christian school she describes, only half-jokingly, as a "cult." By 17, she had dropped out of school, returned home, and begun to face a period of difficult transition in her life. The daughter of a Baptist pastor, Tomberlin found herself questioning not only her faith, but her identity, her purpose, and her place in the world.
"I was working, going to school, and experiencing heavy isolation," Tomberlin says of the time when she first began writing the songs on At Weddings. "It felt monotonous, like endless nothingness. It was a means to get through to the next step of life." In songwriting, Tomberlin found relief and lucidity she had trouble articulating otherwise. When she was 19, she wrote "Tornado" on her parents' piano, and began to develop confidence in her music. A year later, she had written enough songs to fill an album.
Throughout At Weddings, Tomberlin's lyrics yearn for stability and belonging, a near-universal desire among young people learning to define themselves on their own terms for the first time. "I am a tornado with big green eyes and a heartbeat," she sings on "Tornado," her voice stretching to the top of her range. Rich, idiosyncratic imagery -- a fly killed with a self-help book, brown paper bags slashed violently open, clouds that weep over a lost love -- sidle up to profound realizations about learning to be alive in this world. "To be a woman is to be in pain," Tomberlin notes on "I'm Not Scared." On "A Video Game," she muses, "I wish I was a hero with something beautiful to say."
Tomberlin cites the hymns she grew up singing in church as her greatest musical influence, and while At Weddings in many ways documents the unlearning of her childhood faith, it's easy to hear the reverential quality of sacred music in her songs. "A lot of hymns talk about really crazy stuff -- being saved from the depths and the mire, judgment. When you actually realize what you're singing, it becomes really overwhelming," Tomberlin says. "I grew up singing in church. I was still helping to lead worship when I started coming to terms with the realization that I didn't know if I believed. I felt nauseous and shaky reading these words I was singing and feeling their intensity. If I did believe this, how could I sing these words without being scared out of my mind? That's what's influenced how I write."
At Weddings is laden with reverence for music itself, for the power it has to heal others and help people navigate their lives. It is a record about learning to love oneself and others without reservation, from a place of deep sincerity -- a lifelong challenge whose tribulations Tomberlin articulates beautifully. "My number one goal with my music is for honesty and transparency that helps other people find ways to exist," she says. With At Weddings, this remarkable young songwriter offers up comfort and wonder in equal measure.
**Due to travel issues the show tonight 11/25/18 has been POSTPONED to Tuesday, January 15 2019. All tickets will be honored. Refunds are available from point of purchase until 12/25/18.**