Remember when music critics wondered if Conor Oberst might be the next Bob Dylan? And then when that didn’t happen it turned into Sufjan Stevens. Then after much embarrassment, we realized how silly the idea was in the first place. Another Bob Dylan will never happen, nor should it. Bob Dylan is the only Bob Dylan, and that’s the end of a very boring conversation.
But what was it about Bob Dylan that makes us want to find another artist like him? What virtuosic brilliance did does he encompass that no other musician before or after has ? And what in the hell am I doing bringing this up in a review of a Why? concert?
First of all, I think Bob Dylan is special because he struck at timelessness in his music. Sure, some think “60s” when they hear “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but I don’t. I hear justice and compassion, things that did not come and go in a decade. Why?’s Yoni Wolf does something very similar. Take the lyric, “On my fixie with the chopped horns turned in, trailing behind your biodiesel Benz.” It takes a specific type of person to understand what any of this means. Yet, the details aren’t important at all. Somewhere behind the details, a blurry image of anxiety and cowardice is clearer.
Yoni’s honesty is alarming. Even when it’s fiction, his songs strike deep into the psyche of a listener. Over clattering of glockenspiels and drumsticks, his croaky voice touches all of us who’ve felt that dread. When we are assured that Heaven does not exist, only the place we were before we were born, that’s when Why?’s music gets real. Yoni’s work is about life, death, and all the funny and depressing stuff in between. It’s not always pretty, but pleasure is never constant.
Lincoln Hall was sold out with young faces last night. A bunch of back-slidden pastors kids, hanging on every word that came out of Yoni’s mouth. He clownishly danced around the stage while two drummers kept perfect odd time on either side. Two female voices accompanied him, giving the band a bit of a Dirty Projectors look. When Yoni lifted his arms, so did the crowd. It’s a new church, but Yoni isn’t the deity.
Rapping about reality isn’t always the best way captivate a hip hop fan. But Why? isn’t hip hop. It’s something timeless. It feels as real now as it did six years ago. It’s not bad poetry. The kids never lie.
Photo by Melanie Van De Water