In 2001, we were minding our own business, listening to Radiohead, Detroit garage rock, and the death throes of hip-hop’s Golden Era. Metal was only appreciated ironically. It was, sadly, a world that did not party very hard.
Then, out of the void came a gleaming, ten-story wall of sound demanding that we “party ‘til we puke,” “get ready to die,” and above all, “have a fun night.”
Was it from the past? Was it from the future? No, it was from the mind of a dude named Andrew W.K.
What we did not know, could not possibly know, was that this Andrew W.K. character was serious. Far from a joke, and even further from the neon nihilism of the hair metal it vaguely resembled, it was the most unlikely musical idiom of all: a hard-rock opus on the power of positive living.
The grin-inducing infectiousness of tunes like “Party Hard” and “She is Beautiful” refused to wane, and eventually even the most dour critic cracked a covert smile into his soy latte. In the era of Indie angst and shoe-gaze,I Get Wet was big, sweaty high-five. In the post 9/11 gloom, Andrew W.K. threw a still-expanding party and invited everyone with ears.
A decade later, much has changed—about music, about the world, about us—but as the I Get Wet Tenth Anniversary Tour descended on First Avenue, some things looked rather familiar.
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An AWK crowd, buzzing pre-show, contains a touch of Fight Club essence: people of roughly similar age but little else in common, who all just happen to be in on a secret. But instead of, “thanks for beating my a** last night,” the knowing look of AWK afficionados translates to “we are going to party respectfully and may later be involved in a damp group hug.”
As for the question of whether the music can still set the people off, well, bodies start flying before the mono lead in to “It’s Time To Party” is even through. Some land helplessly in the photo pit, others make their way to the stage, and one manages to climb a stack of stage amps.
Just on the heels of the initial shock, the AWK guitar squadron launches into action (it takes four guitars to replicate the sound on I Get Wet), and then out comes Andrew himself, quite possibly in the same nasty whites from the 2002 tour. In under twenty seconds, the only man in America who can sing “Hey YOU! Let’s PAR-TAY,” without irony, has First Avenue at a Nigel Tufnel eleven.
Thereafter, lulls in energy vary from brief to nonexistent. That fact is a credit to the endearing single-mindedness of I Get Wet itself, but the updated stage production leaves nothing to chance. The aforementioned four guitarists, a female backing singer/air boxer/cheerleader, drummer with a triple bass kit, (AWK might have a three footed drummer—that would certainly party harder) and the multi-tasking frontman himself produce a sound that is simply too huge and too defined to be described as a “wall.” It’s more like being trapped inside of a stadium-sized piano, each melody and hook producing a seemingly involuntary venue-wide experience. The hard part, taking it all in, is locating the singularity of “the show.”
Is it somewhere among the guitar squadron that spans the stage, each rocking harder than the next, one even wearing the “WARNING: I PARTY VERY HARD” tee shirt? Is it the guitarist with the Gibson and the Quiet Riot starter kit head banging for 90 straight minutes? Is it temporarily housed in the body of the air-boxing, crazy-eyed, back-up singer when she leads the sing-a-long? Is it the Dude in White himself? Or is it broiling somewhere near the center of the pit, where all of the spewed liquid lands, where the axis point of the rotating mosh Andrew requested took shape?
Or what if it’s none of the above? What if when Andrew W.K. dropped I Get Wet ten years ago, he planted what amounted to a virus in all of our heads? What at first seemed like a goof—an entire album devoted to the serious human business that is partying—turned out to be something we all desperately wanted, maybe needed. So as the years strolled on, and adulthood with them, an album that made you crank up the volume and laugh out loud, regardless of what you were doing or who was in the room, never disappeared from your collection. When you needed a smile, it never, ever failed. And you loved that moment of meeting someone who said “Andrew W.K.?—h*ll yes!” Somehow, Andrew W.K.’s sincerity occasionally spilled into your own life. How often do you have a complete, irony-free, moment of joy about something, the kind you have when “Fun Night” comes on? Maybe Andrew W.K. gave a bunch of people who barely know how to look someone in the eye and say “I like you” the permission to have an unguarded positive thought.
And when he comes around ten years later, and fires up those tunes, he barely has to touch the mic. He just has to whip up the guitars, set the virus loose, and watch the party he started ten years ago unfold. How else do you explain a metal show that devolves into one giant, sweaty bear hug? How do you explain music that comes in that heavy and leaves feeling more like a love letter to life itself?
Eh, maybe you can’t. Maybe Andrew W.K. just parties really hard.