Sometimes you know you’re catching a band just at the right moment -- whether it’s due to good fortune, an insider’s tip, or just a tireless effort to stay ahead of the curve -- and you get to see them in an intimate space, the kind you know you’ll never see them in again. For me, it was Radiohead at RCKNDY, Interpol at Graceland, Arcade Fire at Neumos, among a few others, and most recently WU LYF’s first Seattle performance. True, the young Manchester band might not reach the heights of those others, but you could hardly tell that to anyone among the sold out crowd at the Crocodile last Saturday. We all knew that we were at the right place at the right time.
Openers Crystal Antlers were a great fit for the show. The Long Beach band had been through the hype machine themselves already, even before the release of their full-length debut, which was the final album put out by their label, Touch & Go, before it ceased releasing new albums altogether. That night, vocalist and bassist Jonny Bell seemed a bit shaggier than when they last came through Seattle, but his voice was just as strong in this set, featuring mostly songs from their new, self-released album, Two-Way Mirror. Many reviewers pick up on the band’s psych-meets-punk tendencies, but even at their jammiest they recalled genres of math- and noise rock on stage. For this show, the band had a couple of change-ups: Tour manager turned percussionist Damian Edwards grooved on the keys rather than on his usual bongo setup, replacing regular keyboardist Cora Foxx, and Andrew King was replaced on guitar by a guy introduced as “JP,” who apparently had been playing with them for only two weeks. Man, did he shred nonetheless! In all, Crystal Antlers played a solid set, reminding us why they were once so buzzed about as they performed older hits like “Andrew” and “A Thousand Eyes,” their long-running cover of Bob Dylan’s “It All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and some punchy yet melodic new songs that make me ask, “Why the hell aren’t we playing the new album more?”
While Crystal Antlers drew a faction of fans of their own, the house filled up for the somewhat mysterious headliners, WU LYF, a band that had nearly nightly name changes before they finally settled on a hybrid of World Unite! and Lucifer Youth Foundation. Just as either part of their name implies, the four members prefer to be known as more of a movement than a band, more for their sound and songs than for their individual personalities, to the point of at first evading press and refusing interviews. An early leak of their album, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, afforded the band a certain anonymity while at the same time building a massive fanbase across the internet. But once the lack of story became the story, WU LYF came out of hiding. It’s no wonder, though, since as a band they’ve been open about other things, like for instance posting the lyrics to their songs on their website despite (or maybe because of) singer Ellery Roberts’ purposefully garbled vocals. And besides, once a band starts to tour, any mystery is bound to fade.
During their set at the Crocodile, the WU LYF members made no pretense of secrecy and referred to themselves by name: Ellery Roberts on lead vocals and keys, Tom McLung, or “Lung,” on bass and backing vocals, Evans Kati on guitar, and Joseph Manning on drums. The cult of WU LYF, though, was inescapable, as a tall “Wucifix” glowed from center stage. The band opened, appropriately enough, with album opener, “L Y F,” and proceeded to play each song from the album (though thankfully not in order). Roberts certainly had the frontman attitude, alternating between direct engagement and cool detachment. Though he made very little eye contact with the audience, in those few moments when he did, you could sense that he too was aware of a special moment -- how could he not, as the audience sang along with every guttural word. Lung, by comparison, was acrobatic. He spun, jumped, and even somersaulted from side stage. From the opposite side, Evans Kati wailed away, throwing out his signature chiming, vaguely Caribbean, reverb-laden tones, while Manning drove it all forward from beneath the Wucifix.
True, WU LYF is no Arcade Fire on stage and they probably never will be. A lot of people want to make that comparison -- and it’s not an entirely unfair one to make since both bands share similar anthemic qualities, cathedral organs, and a grand sweeping gesture of instrumentation -- but the communal brotherhood WU LYF inspires goes beyond even AF’s Canadian socialism. Really, on my very first listen to the album, I thought that Ellery was singing in a different language, so when I stood among an entire crowd of arm pumping fans yelling each word -- particularly on fan favorites like “Spitting Blood” and “Dirt,” and most especially on the “we’re all one” hit “We Bros” -- I knew beyond a doubt there was something special here. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to join the WU LYF legion soon, hopefully before the venues they’re booked in start to match their arena-ready sound.
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