I remember hearing cLOUDDEAD for the first time. The year was 2004 and I was 21 (don’t do the math on that). An acquaintance whose taste I respected, and maybe even aspired to at the time, recommended their recently released ‘Ten’. I was immediately struck by the aesthetic of the reversed role of capital letters in typewriter font on the LP cover. I had to listen, didn’t I? “It’s the wood man and his splintering self. It’s the wooden woman and her hollowing out”, repeats under shouts until plodding kick-hat-kick-snare establishes itself and a throbbing low end ambiance pulls the eyelids together and floats the mind like a slow exhale after a deep smokey breath. This thing had me.
In the liner notes for ‘Ten’ the booklet states “Yoni thinks this is our last record. Adam definitely does not. David remains optimistic.” Yoni Wolf, aka Why?, would release his first solo record the next year. ‘Elephant Eyelash’ was decidedly different than his work with cLOUDDEAD, especially lyrically. Detailed, stream of consciousness musings on animal death and decay gave way to personal stories about growing up in California, crying, doing drugs, having sex, y’know…normal stuff. His sophomore release in 2008, ‘Alopecia’ was an intimate dive into the mind of Why?. Every line infinitely quotable, I listened to it incessantly. I would put ‘Good Friday’ or ‘The Fall of Mr. Fifths’ on at every party I went to and they became group anthems among a tight group of friends. In various states of inebriation entire kitchens full of people would shout along word for word. Alopecia became a flag representing youth as a country in my life. At one point I even realized a girl I dated was cheating on me when her Facebook status was “Pull me on out of this tree, I’m stuck up a branch waiting, clearly caught between two things unclear to me.” The next time I saw her was outside of The Horseshoe after a Why? show. No other artist has been as relevant to my personal life.
Fast forward five years. The day is September 19th and I am 31 (don’t do the math). I have two hours to kill before Lee’s Palace lets anyone in. Rather than wait in line, I’m drinking beer and whiskey at Beer Station and watching the Jay’s game. I don’t care about baseball. I am keenly distracted by a group text conversation consisting entirely of Why? lyrics. I hope they play old stuff, I say.
I am front and centre when Dessa hits the stage. I remember listening to Doomtree years ago but to be honest I couldn’t remember any of their songs, and I was certainly not familiar with her solo work. She had my attention immediately. A tall pretty girl in a sparkly shirt and shorts with a demanding intensity and a unique flow. She spent much of her set at the edge of the stage, often crouching to be as close to the crowd as possible. If she had been headlining the response of those around me would have been impressive. I took it as an allusion of impending chaos.
Instruments filled the stage in a semi circle covered in white paper. Keyboards with guitars behind them, drums, basses, and two xylophones. Yoni and his band emerge from the dark to roar of a packed venue. It seems like everyone here is as huge a fan as myself. I feel the push on my back as the crowd tightens. The first words from Why?’s mouth are sung in unison by everyone around me. My friend screams and grabs my shoulder. He’s playing old stuff. I feel a slight pang of guilt for not giving his newer albums, ‘Eskimo Snow’ and ‘Mumps, Etc…’ more of a chance. But he seems to be aware that ‘Alopecia’ is his magnum opus and plays little else. Lyrics from 6 years ago seem to gain relevance in this moment. “Even though I haven’t seen you in years, yours is a funeral I’d fly to from anywhere.”, “Only those evil live to see their own likeness in stone.”, “If you grew up with white boys who only look at black and Puertorican porno cuz they want something that their dads don’t got…” I could fill up the page with just quotes and miss something you would think was vital. Every one screamed by hundreds of cracking voices as some crowd surfed and others danced. I would put down my camera to scream lines at the people on my left. People who have been at my side for years, seen me through my worst and stayed right there. I guess a little like Why? we entered the night like time was dead and we had killed it. Why? was our flag.
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Review and Photos by Benjamin Telford | @bentelfordphoto