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WHY? varied their formula at Altar Bar to mixed results

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WHY? varied their formula at Altar Bar to mixed results

By Jack Trainor / Staff Writer

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Cincinnati indie-rock band Why? is difficult to categorize. “Indie-rock” might not even be an adequate label, given how vague the term has become. Sometimes jangly rock and other times rap, Why? has always seemed to elude the confines of a single sound. 

Why? performed in Pittsburgh on Thursday at the Altar Bar for the third time in three years, armed with much of the same setlist as the previous two visits. But the band brought a decidedly different approach to its own songs — which weren’t always satisfying. 

In what felt like a speedy show, lasting about an hour, the threesome-turned-six-piece belted out its songs led by frontman Yoni Wolf’s hilariously bizarre dance moves. These included marching in a tight circle and pumping his fist skyward during “The Vowels, Pt. 2,” the standout from 2008’s Alopecia, and standing hunched over and flopping his body like a fish, even after the music had stopped. 

But the energy Wolf exuded contrasted the stripped and slowed pace of even its most upbeat songs. “Good Friday,” another highlight from Alopecia, is usually a darkly confessional rap song with a swift and steady drumbeat and looped guitar picking, which complements the grimly obscure lyrics. But the song came after Wolf opted to skip the one before it, for reasons he didn’t say, and then he proceeded to introduce “Good Friday” alone, seemingly before his band could catch up. 

Whether the initial rapping alone was intentional or not, most of the grungy guitar was replaced by the lighthearted sound of bells and piano, creating a weird juxtaposition between the calm of the music and intensity of the rapping. 

This was followed with the equally dark yet dulled “The Vowels, Pt. 2,” which has slightly less rapping, but it was nonetheless spoiled by bubblegum chimes of bells and a slower, softer tempo.

Both of these songs come from Alopecia, which is Why?’s most acclaimed and genre-scrambled record, but it felt like the band was turning these songs inside-out of their already enjoyably quirky selves, either out of boredom or genuine experimentation. Meanwhile, a catastrophic explosion appropriately danced on a screen behind them. 

In other instances, the band’s strategy paid off, building up songs to a peak before tearing them down into a booming climax. “January Twenty Something” and “Strawberries” were some of the best examples, with playful opening bells giving way to bouncy melodies, which were led by drummer Josiah Wolf.  

Similarly, sing-along-friendly songs “The Hollows” and “Yo Yo Bye Bye” also benefited from tantalizingly slow rhythms, encouraging many in attendance to raise their hands above their heads and wave with the beat as they sang. 

According to its Facebook page, this is Why?’s last tour for at least a year, presumably to begin recording a new record. Hopefully with the new material, the band will resort back to playing its older songs with the same original intent that made them fascinatingly unique and enjoyable to begin with.

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WHY? varied their formula at Altar Bar to mixed results