James Ross Kiefer,
Saturday evening saw pensive musical acts Why? and Open Mike Eagle perform at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. Fans eager to see the ever shifting genres of band leader Jonathan Avram “Yoni” Wolf, or Yoni Wolf, lined the walls of the venue.
Opening the show was L.A. rapper Open Mike Eagle. Stylistically meeting at a halfway point between the impressive narrative style of R. Kelly, and the production values of Danny Brown/Run The Jewels, Mike presents a socially conscious figure unafraid to comment on things such as subsidized housing, wedding invitations and everyday heroes – all with a playful delivery.
Mike’s latest album, “Brick Body Kids Still Daydream,” focuses on the the Robert Taylor Homes, a housing project in South Chicago that was demolished a decade ago. In the wake of families being displaced and lives disrupted, Mke paints a melancholic ode to life in the projects.
Displaying his more more introspective side, Mike started his set with “Big Pretty Bridges (3 Days off in Albuquerque)” and “Raps For When It’s Just You & The Abyss.” Early on Mike showed his propensity to stutter the drum pad, muting the backing track for poetic effect. “Daydreaming In The Projects” takes on a nostalgic perspective as he recounts youth growing up around Robert Taylor Homes.
Surprisingly, Mike shared his one his true talents outside of music: giving advice. He prompted the crowd for issues and gave a few rather short answers, most memorably was “you should get a better job.”
Mike closed his set on “The Processional (The Funeral March),” a fitting song about nuclear war and parties ending, and “Ziggy Starfish”, a song that alludes to Mike being Batman. Concertgoer Dion Evans said, “Honestly, part of it is just the fact that his (Open Mike Eagle) style of rapping has always appealed to me in so many different ways.” Dion mentioned an emotional pull the the rapper, saying “being able to dissect and listen to each and everyone of the lyrics that he sings, even if it doesn’t correlate to my life I can still empathize a lot of the things he sings about. I’m able to put myself in his songs.”
Why? Took the stage with a surplus of lights, keyboards, drumpads and synthesizers. Touring in support of their newest record, “Moh Lhean” dropped in March of 2017 off the Joyful Noise label, and has received positive review from both Pitchfork and Spill Magazine. The titular Cincinnati songwriter and rapper Yoni Wolf is joined by Doug McDiarmid on bass and keyboards, Matt Meldon on guitar and his older brother Josiah on drums. “Moh Lhean” not only marks the first record from Why? since 2013, but it’s also continues the Yoni’s departure from a rap/hip-hop aesthetic into that of a more buoyant indie style. The album could be called anything but “hard.” The majority of “Moh Lhean” has that lush, borderline orchestral composition that Why? has been cranking out since “Mumps, etc.,” which to some fans may feel like a return to form, but could also be categorized as a rehash.
Live Why? is a bit of an apathetic sight, relying on lighting design to suffice for stage presence. The entire band was surrounded by walls keyboards and synthesizers, all except for Yoni remained stagnant during the show. Songs like “Proactive Evolution” and “George Washington” offered a few brief moments of livelihood in a performance that felt more like a stroll through a museum exhibit than a concert. The highlight of the set was crowd favorite “The Vowels Pt. 2,” which featured Yoni on bass, gripping the crowd with a nearly anthemic chorus.
The band offered a tinder reprisal of an encore, doing acoustic versions of “Fatalist Palmistry” and “Yo Yo Bye Bye.” An intimate closing to only a semi-memorable evening.
Carrboro resident Paige Hines and long time Why? fan enjoyed the perfomrance. She said, “I really liked the opener, Open Mike Eagle, he was really upbeat, his lyrics were really personal, his voice was lovely and he was really fun. I’ve been listening to Why? for a long time and it was great to finally see them live, so yeah, it was a good show.
More information and upcoming shows can be found at the Cat’s Cradles website, catscradle.com.