Wye Oak at Fine Line, 5/15/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Bridget Bennett

Wye Oak
With Braids
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis
May 15, 2014

Wye Oak frontwoman Jenn Wasner has mastered the guitar and has moved on to her next musical challenge. After experimenting with glossy electro-pop with her side projects, Flock of Dimes and Dungeonesse, Wasner convinced her Wye Oak bandmate Andy Stack to take their current sound in a more synth-driven direction.

Those shimmering new songs from their new album, Shriek, were featured throughout the Baltimore/Portland duo's 90-minute set at the Fine Line on Thursday night. But the moments when Wasner did pick up her guitar were completely electric, as their older songs sounded massive and raw compared to the vibrant pop sheen of the new material.

See also:
Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner: The choice was between making this record or no record at all

Wasner admitted late in the set that "Performing isn't easy for me, and there was a time when I thought it wouldn't happen again." So this shift in tone and atmospherics has been a matter of survival for her as a songwriter, and the emotions of her new songs are concealed behind a comforting synth-pop veneer. Her stage setup was less guitar, and more bass and keyboard, with Stack's modified drum kit also equipped with a row of synths and keys.

Photos by Bridget Bennett
Shriek's three lead-off tracks began the night. Wasner's fuzzed-out bass and Stack kept a reggae-like beat on the quasi-dubstep swing of "The Tower." A simmering, Everything But the Girl-like version of the title track really ignited the set. Wasner strapped on a guitar for rousing versions of "Holy Holy" and "Plains" that sounded even grittier and more cacophonous following the electro-focused start to the show.

Wasner refused to stick with one sound or style for very long, and quickly ditched her guitar and launched into the dynamic, disco-like beat of "Glory," alternating between the bass and keys while adding textured atmospherics to the jubilant chorus. There is clearly some heavy sentiment within "Sick Talk," but Wasner was revealing only what she wanted to throughout the performance, comfortable with that shrouded arrangement even though only half her creative heart was showing at times.

"After those two songs, I need a minute to breathe," Wasner explained while she sipped some water and took a moment to decompose, clearly overcome by the thoughts of whatever inspired the previous numbers. Stack emerged from behind his kit to play bass on a hypnotic version of "Spiral" that was a clear highlight of the set, as Wasner dropped to her knees during an electric solo that added to the track's mercurial edge.

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