This gig very nearly did not happen. Only by sheer luck were Wye Oak able to make the stage tonight, having woken up in London this morning in order to make an appearance on Lauren Laverne’s BBC radio show, the band packed up and left the capital for Manchester at 2pm, on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend. In their words “after some driving, and a lot of sitting”, they were able to make it to the Deaf Institute just in time, the show must go on. The duo (expanded into a trio in live environments) have just released their fifth album, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, and are coming to an end of their extensive European tour.
Support came courtesy of New York’s Suno Deko, opening in an almost stately manner with an unassuming vocal paired with the low rumble of a Vangelis-esque synthesiser, feeding back and looping onto itself before introducing a treated guitar that sounds closer in tone to chopped piano chords- adding to a smooth, dreamlike palette, a midpoint between M83 and Cocteau Twins. Compared to his recordings, the solo performance of Suno Deko (the stage alias of David Courtright) is markedly different live- the orchestral flourishes heard from the studio replaced with the echoing rattle of guitar, or a looped sample of wordless singing, while drums are nearly entirely absent with the exception of the occasional drumstick hitting guitar strings (again, looped back on itself and added to the wall of sound). The effect is ethereal- fragmented, deconstructed pieces, pop music reduced and redacted into impressionism. You cannot help but savour the remains.
Wye Oak offer a similar feel. One part panoramic, stadium-sized (it wouldn’t be inconceivable to imagine Wye Oak’s music in an arena environment) but also vulnerable, fragile, introspective. During ‘Lifer’ and ’It Was Not Natural’, Jenn Wasner’s unrestrained yearning singing style is not dissimilar to Kate Bush or Florence Welsh, confidently firing through octave leaps and effortlessly gliding above her cavernous, echoing guitar and Andy Stack’s electronically-augmented drums (Andy had jarred his back before the show, so extra credit needs to be given here for playing through the pain and not letting it show, physically or musically), delivered with near-robotic precision to grant Wasner’s melodies more freedom, her voice telling tales of Wye Oak’s sound evokes a warm nostalgic feeling, a vague half-remembrance of songs and sounds washing in and out of subconsciousness. This may be from the ghostly undercurrent of synthetic washes and echoes that bridge the gaps between songs which reach out through the jetsam like an AM radio scanning through the ether to find the right frequency, phasing in and out as the band play through a selection of new songs.
The icy smoothness of ‘You Of All People’ a dreamy highlight, as well as older material, such as the palindromic ‘The Tower’, dedicated to Sun Deko (this being the last night on the tour with this particular support act) and ‘Glory’, far more angular and spiky than the Louder I Call material, with more of a jerky, post-punk shimmer. Another highlight came late in the set with ‘I Know It’s Real’ – Jenn’s vocals and picked cascading arpeggios give off a vague americana twang before pulling into crunching slow-motion chorus, closer in spirit to the likes of Red House Painters and American Music Club.
Wye Oak’s new material dominates the setlist, and the band’s easy confidence really makes the new music shine, especially during the unexpected singalong during ‘Watching The Waiting’- the audience identifying the song from a single strummed chord that took the group entirely by surprise. The grin plastered on Wasner’s face was a one of genuine love, reflecting the sincere affection for the support the band have received in the UK on their tour- in their words, “this is a wonderful end to a very long day”.
Words and photos by Liam Moody. Wye Oak performed at The Deaf Institute on Friday 4th May 2018.