When I walked into Trees on April 4th, the customarily scattered crowd was looking, frankly, average. It was a sea of comfortable jeans and sneakers. No one stood too close, everyone allowed their neighbors a healthy amount of body-swaying room. The air about the dimly lit venue was mild.
If there was any anxiety, Eskimeaux’s set encapsulated a kind of familiar friendship that, if nothing else, made one feel less alone in the dark. Compared to Eskimeaux’s recorded music, the live band had a more simple, campfire vibe that was somehow even more approachable and headbob-able. Where heavier synth lines were sacrificed, Gabby Smith’s vocals took over, coaxing the crowd into a sheepish singalong for “Broken Necks” and “I Admit I’m Scared”. As I’m sure we would all would, Gabby paused mid-set and geeked out, admitting how nervous and exciting it is to be on tour with WHY?. Then, almost giggling, she and her backing band launched into fifteen minutes of “new jams”, before disembarking the stage and amicably manning their merch table.
Initially, I thought the most crowded part of the venue would be on the patio between sets, but as WHY?’s set time grew nearer, people began to emerge as if from nowhere and filled out the room. Suddenly there were shoulders to bump into with every step, and if you wanted to get a drink you sure as heck weren’t getting back whatever real estate you left.
From behind a curtain, a quiet guitar riff that I’m pretty sure was “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy hushed the crowd, then all at once the curtains parted, and the stage was… seemingly empty? Beams of light and fog, but no central figure. Instead, the members of WHY? created a ring around the stage, each with their own “station” of instruments. Far on stage left, nearly lost in the fog, Yoni’s baseball cap gives him away. Though sparse and initially a bit surprising, the setup proved to complement the first part of the set well.
The performance was focused on the presentation of the music, and the crowd was expected to get lost in the music alone. WHY? played nearly every song on their newest album, Moh Lhean, with (much to my surprise, since they released the album only a month ago) quite a few people singing along with every word. Eventually Yoni dragged a mic to the center of the stage for some of their more vocally based songs, and as we watched Yoni’s hand gestures and facial expressions, the songs we all knew seemed to have a more impactful meaning. After around 25 minutes of an somewhat ethereal, intricate set of their newer music mixed with selections from the albums Mumps, Etc., and Elephant Eyelash, WHY? got off the stage.
Fans began the customary “ONE MORE SONG!” chant, with success. WHY? returned, setting up in the center of the stage with their acoustic outfit. The change in setup evoked the intimacy that was felt in many WHY? songs but that didn’t necessarily fit with the previous half of their set. “Simeon’s Dilemma” and other crowd favorites were nearly screamed by much of the audience, and being able to watch the faces of the band members as they listened to the crowd complemented the sort of anonymity of the first half of the set. I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow the acoustic half of the show was bridging the gap between the somewhat unreachable, legendary status of WHY? and the reality of these men simply being people with a love and talent for poetry and music.
The show ended around 10:30– rather early by most Deep Ellum show standards. No one seemed incredibly intoxicated or overtly grumpy. Everyone seemed very conscious of the experience we’d shared as a crowd, and I overheard several conversations analyzing particular lyrics we’d just heard. The calm that surrounded the venue before the show quickly returned. We dispersed, lost in our heads, driving home thinking “There is no other, only this. There is no other.”