Neither of the bartenders at my go-to downtown bar knew who Andrew W.K. was.
I tried to explain to Nicole, the younger bartender, “He’s the party guy. You know, the ‘Party Hard’ guy? ‘It’s time to party?’ ‘When it’s time to party we will always party hard?'”
My friend Candy saved me – she’s also young, but more musically inclined. She walked up in the middle of my description, having not heard the start of the conversation. I was saying “He’s the ‘Party Hard’ guy!” and without missing a beat Candy said “Andrew W.K.? Did you go to the show??” Thank you, Candy.
By the way, in that same conversation with Nicole the bartender we talked about which U.S. president was the first one we were aware of as kids. For me it was Reagan. “Mine was Bush,” Nicole said.
Nicole: “….. No.”
Fuck me …
Back to Andrew. The cover picture of this blog is him playing a guitar shaped like a slice of pizza for the intro to “She Is Beautiful,” the single off of his first and still best-known album I Get Wet.
Andrew isn’t primarily a guitarist, though. He’s not even much of a singer. I listened to a board mix of one of his concerts, and it was actually a little sad … but his backing singers make up the difference, and anyways he would be hospitalized after every show if he sang every song like on the album. His vocal chords would have calcified into fossils long ago.
Underneath it all, Andrew is a pianist.
And what a pianist. He began studying piano at the University of Michigan School of Music when he was four years old. He studied jazz piano in high school.
But then instead of becoming the next Duke Ellington or George Gershwin, he became ….. this.
James and I used to joke about how we needed to add an Andrew-style piano part to our songs – just a high “Plink! Plink! Plink! Plink!” on the root note in the background. Kidding aside, though, Andrew’s very real piano chops are the best contrast of all to the image he has crafted for himself – the ultimate headbanging, rubberfaced goofball dude-bro. When he goes to play those piano solos, he frees up his hands by shoving the microphone down into the front of his signature white jeans, where it fills out the crotch and dares you not to stare at it.
Partying is what Andrew is all about. His unassailable first record contains the tracks “It’s Time to Party,” “Party Hard,” and “Party ‘Till you Puke.”
Interestingly enough, Andrew doesn’t drink. Or smoke, or do drugs. His fans … not so much.
For straight-edge Andrew, the idea of capital-p “Party,” ever-present in his show and in his off-stage persona, is more totemic. It represents enjoying life and embracing positivity. His stage banter didn’t specifically reference the breaking-news mass shooting in Las Vegas, but his entreaties to savor every moment as if it was our last touched that nerve effortlessly.
Andrew has a side-career as a motivational speaker. He has joked (??) about running for office as a member of the “Party” party. Glenn Beck has a man-crush on him – I watched in awe as, after one conversation with Andrew, Beck was practically saying “Oh my God, what am I doing with my life?! I’m part of the problem!” That alone makes Andrew something more than human.
From a musical standpoint, Andrew’s sound squares with the “Party” philosophy. The music is so intense and so happy that you don’t need booze or drugs to start bouncing off the walls on a seratonin high. The music is the rush; is the drug.
And bounce they do. The floor of an Andrew W.K. concert is predictably chaotic, surging with mosh-pit activity and completely devoid of personal space. With that many people shoving into you, jumping on top of you, pressing the breath out of you, you can add adrenaline rush to the list of things you don’t need drugs for while watching Andrew. It’s as brutal a floor experience as anything ever seen, as the mostly-sweaty-male audience gets worked into a frenzy of “party.”
Andrew’s band has three guitarists. I recognized two of them from the previous concerts – the guy of Asian or native American descent who wears Hawai’ian shirts; and the big guy who looks like the late Jeff Hanneman and plays the same Army-camo guitar as him. The basist is a big Irish guy with mutton-chops, looking like Sid Haig from The Devil’s Rejects.
There were two women in the band, for the first time. One was the keyboardist/sampler, but the other was a guitarist. I didn’t recognize the female guitarist, but she is apparently from Austin. Built slightly compared to the rest of the band, she wore no make-up, her hair in a big frizzy ‘fro, and threw down on the guitar and backing vocals toe-to-toe with the men – intensity and charisma. You don’t see women in that position very often, and it’s always a cool thing.
My favorite Andrew W.K. song is “I Love NYC.” It has a very cerebral chorus:
“I love New York City!
Oh yeah! New York City!”
Perfect, right? Well, Andrew did something that I had seen in youtube videos, but which he had never done live – he asked the audience to make a choice whether the lyric would be “I love New York City” or “I love Austin, Texas.”
Well, he first tried to give us the choice, but then he threw the choice to the Austin-native female guitarist (I should really look up her name …) She threw it back to us, though. Well, the crowd screamed for changing the lyric, so instead of “I Love NYC” it was “I Love Austin, TX.”
I’m sorry to say, I don’t like the song as much that way. There’s just something so right about the original lyric – like “Cellar Door,” the phrase just works better. Plus, changing it to suit the city makes it sound like pandering. Oh well … his show, not mine.
There was a forecast for rain that day, and the concert was outdoor. I wondered what would happen if it started raining during the concert. Well … it started raining lightly during the song “I Get Wet.” We got wet. I mean, we were already sweaty, but still, how perfect.
I’m not surprised by much at an Andrew W.K. show, but I was surprised by the setup for the closing number at the end of the encore – Andrew’s biggest single, “Party Hard.” Andrew asked for a countdown to build anticipation for the song … from 93. Yes, you heard me right, Andrew lead a countdown from 93.
I was like, “Are you serious?! Are we really going to count down from 93?” Well, yes we did. And screw me if it didn’t work. It built up huge suspense, then released it in a balloon-pop of frenzy as the countdown kicked into Andrew’s best-loved hit. Yet another emotional high Andrew was able to orchestrate without the aid of drugs.
From the floor …
Before an Andrew W.K. show, strangers ask each other “Are you ready to party?!” One of them who asked me was a girl named Sky, whom I was happy to invite into my concert experience for the female energy. “If I lose my glasses,” she said “will you help me find them? I would literally do anything for them.”
Me: “… how about I just give them back to you?”
Sky: “Thank you for being kind.”
She wished me a happy birthday. She had never met me in her life, but was only off by three weeks.
“You’re a Gemini, same as me,” she stated. Not asked, stated.
“I’m a Virgo,” I corrected.
“… Same thing,” she replied.
We held hands and hugged early in the concert, but after a few songs Sky retreated to the back of the crowd.
It might have been because the slam-dancing got too intense. I hope it wasn’t because I broke the hand-hold to tie my hoodie around my waist – which was a feat of coordination in that crowd, akin to tying a hoodie around your waist on the deck of a ship in a storm without using handholds. I almost went overboard.
I hope she wasn’t offended by that. I definitely missed her for the rest of the show.
Everyone contributes to the party. No one is expendable.
When it’s time to party, will you always party hard?