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Jenn Wasner and Andy Stacks couldn’t have placed themselves farther apart Thursday night, but even from opposite ends of the Troubadour stage, the duo known as Wye Oak connected for an hour of electrifying shoegaze and folk-pop. Their set-up was spare, with Wasner minding her guitar and pedal board on the right, while Stacks took to the drums and keyboards on the left like a human octopus. The black backdrop eliminated any distractions onstage, leaving only the neon glow of the venue’s sign.
||| Photos by Laurie Scavo
But for a band whose last two albums circled around themes of loneliness, solitude did not necessarily mean quietude in front of the sold-out crowd. Helping herself to a concoction of whiskey and water, Wasner’s alto voice often cracked with an emotional intimacy that oddly pulled listeners into a hole where the message was heard loud and clear: New relationships would not happen without separation.
If any songs seemed to steadily chug along like the opening song “The Alter,” it was the calm before the storm. Delicate guitar riffs followed Stacks’ slow pulse at the outset before giving way to more chaotic song structures in songs such as “Plains” and the title track from their album “Civilian,” the latter earning rousing cheers. Wasner’s ponderous blues eyes were suddenly covered in a blonde blur as her hair whipped around and her body succumbed to the heavily fuzz-coated melodies. Only the music tied the pair together, as they exchanged nary a glance.
Wasner and Stacks also touched on old favorites such as “That I Do” from their 2009 album “The Knot” and even “I Hope You Die” from their “My Neighbor/My Creator” EP. But the thrill came during “Dog Eyes,” when the two not only finally looked at each other during a song but also played to each other. Simultaneously slowing down the tempo but certainly not thinning the intensity, the abrupt shredding and tremendous percussion seemed to bring their set full circle. But it didn’t end there.
“It’s been a pleasure,” Wasner told us. “Now, you’re going to clap, I’m going to drink some more whiskey and then we’ll come back to play some more songs.” As promised, the duo came back onstage and went head-first in to “For Prayer” and their well-known cover of the Kinks’ “Strangers,” only to separate again. Stacks departed his drum-and-keys setup before the encore’s third song.
For the stripped down finale to their set, “Doubt” only needed Wasner on guitar. “This song’s for anyone who’s ever loved anyone but the timing just wasn’t right,” she said. Just shy of 2 minutes 30 seconds, the song ended when Wasner suddenly dropped her guitar, tilted her head to sweetly say “thank you” and walked off stage.
Local indie-rock quintet Line and Circle opened the night with new songs and some new band members (including Nathan Gammill and Eric Neujahr of Aushua/Pacific Hurt). The band has a 7-inch single en route in May. L.A. band the Californian also debuted a number of new guitar-rock songs anchored by strong pop-oriented melodies.