Bristol Coulston hall is heaving when we arrive, I’m a little surprised by this, until I remember it says on my ticket that we’re going to hall 2 for WHY? Rather than hall 1, where Stephen Merchant is playing. We’re told that they’re running an hour behind, and so we hang around. Eventually the foyer is almost empty, it’s at this point that someone else who’s there for WHY? Turns to my
friends and I to share with us the story of “how my friend has found the most beautiful, true kind of love” (the reason I’m mentioning this will become apparent later). After an embarrassed “uh, ok, that’s nice…” from his friend, and us, the sea of beards and plaid shirts drifts towards the doors, and we’re finally allowed in.
The room is draughty, and feels a little like a church, with prints of famous musicians performing on the walls, in a similar manner to stained glass windows, and we’re all seated in very neat rows. Serengeti, the support, shuffles on stage, with a nervous air, he perches himself on the edge of a Westlife-esque stool. He welcomes us and introduces Doug, the pianist, because of course, this is not just any gig, it’s part of WHY’s acoustic grand piano tour. He tells us how his album was produced by WHY’s Yoni Wolf and Owen Ashworth of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (now Advance Base), and begins.
His charismatic stage presence is magnified by a sense of uncertainty, fiddling with his mic, before standing again, clearly more comfortable when he’s able to move, and move he does. Swaying he sings the chorus of ‘PMDD’, with Doug on piano harmonising on Joey Fever’s part. Picking up a recorder he apparently “just bought in Berlin”, he manages to make it fit beautifully with the looped piano and vocals - either he’s been practicing or is one of those infuriating instantly musical people. With a wave he has us all echoing his shouts on ‘The Whip’ and then that’s it, laughing he says “I’ve got shit for sale over there…WHY Will be here soon” and wanders offstage.
With slicked back hair, thick-rimmed glasses and a shirt buttoned up to the top, Yoni Wolf doesn’t look quite how you might expect. The band launch immediately into ‘These Few Presidents’, to much whooping from the crowd. There’s a masterful surge of dynamics, shrinking almost to nothing and then rising instantly when Yoni begins singing. He rubs his recently broken hand, with a recently broken finger (which led to the cancelling of their tour of America) and tells us they’re going to “play a bunch of new songs”, with a quick plug of their forthcoming album, and how it’s really “taken it out” of him. The first new track is darker and heavier than much of what they’ve done before, and it’s certainly piqued my excitement for the new album. Josiah Wolf is playing bass guitar and bass drum (with his feet), while a new member of WHY? Plays the high hat etc, she’s soon introduced as Liz Wolf, Josiah’s Wife (and musical partner). Laughing they thank Stephen Merchant for opening for them, and “wish him well”.
Yoni’s quick humour, always evident in their lyrics, is shown as he mutters out a joke about how Liz is allegedly “from Bristol” and does a passable British accent when he makes a pun about her maiden name, Hodson (“Hodson, as in what a hot son you have”). They also deal rather well with some half-hearted heckling, including calling one shouter “coward” and inviting him to come up to the stage and repeat himself, this is all done with a smile. Much to their surprise however, to the stage he does come, asking to shake hands with Yoni (oh and look, it’s the guy from earlier who told us about his friend’s new love). Yoni turns this into an elbow shake because of his broken hand - which still looks pretty swollen and his dancing is a little wooden at times because of it. They rush off stage after their final song, but after much cheering return for ‘On Rose Walk’. Two songs later and they finish, this time for good.