Review: Andrew W.K. gets the Avalon to party hard
Rock singer, motivational speaker, kid show host and solo pianist Andrew W.K. arrived at the Avalon in Hollywood on Thursday night with a simple message that he relayed early on.
“My name is Andrew W.K.,” he said in a tone that suggested he was introducing himself to the people of Earth for the first time. “This is my band. We came to L.A. to have fun with you. We came from a great distance.”
And, in essence, the New York-based singer has come a long way. Andrew W.K. (a.k.a. Andrew Wilkes-Krier) is a classically trained pianist turned underground experimental noise artist turned 1990s commercial rocker known for headbanging so hard he’d often perform soaked in his own blood. He’s lately been the effervescent host of Cartoon Network’s “Destroy Build Destroy.”
The multi-tasking frontman and his band (which includes four electric guitarists and W.K. on keyboard) were celebrating the 10th anniversary of 2001’s “I Get Wet” by playing the album in its entirety.
Wasting little time, the singer screamed “It’s time to party!,” and the jammed Avalon dance floor erupted into a pit of pogoing and moshing that, in W.K. style, drew sweat and probably a little blood.
The electric guitarists — straight out of headbanger central casting — stood in a row at the front of the stage as part of an eight-person army/band and jammed chords through Marshall stacks. “Let’s party!” ordered Andrew. “Hang out with yourself and have a crazy party!”
“I Get Wet” is one of the most joyous hard rock records of the last two decades. It’s a happiness delivery system that deliberately (and with more philosophical thought behind it than you’d expect) was designed for the purpose of infusing bliss.
It’s also an incredibly strange record. The album is composed of 12 anthems often used behind NFL and NASCAR highlight reels — “Don’t Stop Living in the Red,” “Fun Night,” “Party Hard” among them. Taken in this hyper-masculine sports context, these songs seem the epitome of dumb rock: simple-minded odes to frat boy instincts like getting drunk, getting loaded, ogling girls and puking. Music for weightlifters.
Pay attention to the lyrics, though, and another picture emerges: “It’s Time to Party,” sets a scene of rocking with oneself in the first verse, but goes on to allude to a more private sort of night — “pounding on one, touching yourself / it’s not too late, it’s time to party!” This not-so-subtle revelation on Thursday night changed the whole context of dudes slam dancing.
In fact, a few years after “I Get Wet” was released, Andrew, whose father is a respected legal scholar at of the University of Michigan Law School (so oratory is in his DNA), began a series of lectures at various colleges. The series included a four-hour session at New York University in 2007 that addressed “I Get Wet” and the tension between so-called simple-minded, “mainstream” ideas and more complicated themes.
The most complex ideas are often the most simple, he explained, expressing the desire to reside in “that multi-colored gray area” where something like “partying” collides with “something very deep, such as the idea of thought, such as the idea of enjoying oneself outside of shallowness. Can these two places find a common ground?”
Yes, as earlier bands like Motorhead, the Ramones and the Troggs discovered, and it’s that rolling-down-the-highway-with-the-radio-on feeling that Andrew W.K. tapped at the Avalon. By creating three- and four-minute guitar songs designed for fist pumping, for moshing, for unstoppable guitar, bass, and drum momentum that Andrew augmented with Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired piano runs, he conjured a kind of carefree, Buddhist-inspired, in-the-moment joy.
“This next song is about girls,” he said, introducing “Girls Own Love.” “This song is about being alive,” he explained of “Ready to Die.” And of “She Is Beautiful,” he said, “This song is about the opposite of men.”
Fifty minutes and buckets-full of sweat later, “I Get Wet” was over. Andrew had commanded us to party till we puked, had described his woman as so hot “that you melt my eyes,” had repeatedly chanted “red! red! red! red!” in the haiku-esque call to action that is “Don’t Stop Living in the Red.”
What did he mean, exactly? “My desire to find refuge in one extreme or the other has not proven as satisfying as floating in the in-between,” he had explained in his NYU lecture, “between seemingly simple-minded ideas and seemingly complex ideas. And I encourage us to do our best to stay in the midst of experience versus residing, or resigning ourselves, to one particular aspect, or comfortable safe zone of experience.”
Andrew W.K. returned for an encore that concluded with a new song called “Headbanger” (exactly what the title describes), and, after carrying a dude around on his shoulders for a bit, commanded that every person in the 1,100-person capacity Avalon bang their heads. We all did, and even if those extra songs seemed unnecessary, like having a slice of cake after an entree of apple pie, they sure felt good going down.
— Randall Roberts
Photos: Andrew W.K. performs "I Get Wet" at Avalon in Hollywood on Thursday. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.