Though we first saw the local band then known as Monarch only a year ago, we can't help but feel some pride about how much the little local duo has accomplished since then. It self-released its debut album, If Children, toured nationally, and garnered some well-deserved buzz and end-of-year accolades from, among others, this publication. And then, in January, it announced that it had changed its name to Wye Oak and that indie powerhouse Merge Records had signed the band and would release If Children with much wider distribution this year. Days after the Merge release, it's premature to speculate whether the newly christened Wye Oak's stature will approach that of labelmates such as Spoon or the Arcade Fire anytime soon, but it's still an exciting time for the band and its fans.
That excitement translated to the release party the band played at the G-Spot April 10, even though many people in attendance had already owned the CD for months and months. Even the venue, which in the past had a stage so low to the ground that you could only really see bands from the front row, premiered its new higher stage for the occasion.
The first opener, Musee Mecanique, was a sleepy five-piece that never quite left an impression. But everyone in the room seemed to perk up for Deer Tick, a raucous, twangy trio that we would've assumed came from somewhere down South, not Rhode Island. Frontman John McCauley had an effortless rapport with the audience, even when explaining that he'd been under the weather recently and, at one point, entertainingly described the hallucinations he was seeing as a result of being lightheaded. And when Deer Tick's set, which included an inevitably crowd-pleasing original titled "Baltimore Blues No. 1," was coming to an end, it felt like no one wanted to let the band off the stage just yet. The cries for one more song were even punctuated by a female voice from the back of the room: "One more--and I own the place," presumably the voice of G-Spot co-owner Jill Sell. Given that, Deer Tick had no choice but to play a couple more, including a surprisingly hard-rocking rendition of "La Bamba."
Wye Oak has been road-testing a number of promising new songs over the past few months, some of which have been archived online by local taper Jeff Mewbourne. And in a way, the Merge reissue of If Children is a little frustrating, if only because it'll take that much longer for that album to run its course so that the band can release its second album. On Thursday, singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner announced that the set would be split into two discrete sections: old material from the album and more recently penned songs, some of which don't have titles yet, for which Wasner jokingly asked for suggestions.
The first half of Wye Oak's set ran through old faithfuls such as "Please Concrete" and "Family Glue" that felt fortified by the months of touring into something stronger and more confident than the studio recordings. Of the handful of new songs, there was at least one we hadn't heard at all before that completely floored us. But the most memorable moment was a rare opportunity for the other half of the band, Andy Stack, to come out from behind his drum set and play frontman. Since Stack pulls double duty on drums and keyboards, with occasional backup vocals, at the band's shows, the If Children tracks he sings lead on rarely get played live. But for the hometown show, the band drafted a friend to play drums on "A Lawn to Mow" so that Stack could strap on a guitar and sing, with Wasner switching to bass. Wye Oak may or may not get any larger in stature as a result of its new record deal, but if it ever expands to a trio, it probably wouldn't alter the magic of the band's music a bit.