The alternative hip hop indie band WHY? performed a spectacular, intimate show at The Irenic in North Park alongside rapper Open Mike Eagle.

The church venue recently lost their liquor license, keeping the crowd of eyeglass wearing hipster nerds sober and attentive. Open Mike Eagle, an indie hip-hop artist originally from Chicago, loosened everyone up with powerful lyrics and silly stage antics.

“I can rap but my real reason on earth is to solve other people’s problems,” he proclaimed, advising a woman in the crowd to simply apply to another college. He stayed light-hearted, occasionally elevating to full-blown DMX style growls, and the crowd left pumped, growing considerably in size.

Techs set the four-person stage in a semi-circle, multi-instrument placement marked with neon green tape, in front of a constellational backdrop. Light bulbs littered the stage Stranger Things-style and I half-expected Winona Ryder to come on stage mid performance shouting “WILL!”

Now, a packed house, the four-man band WHY? took stage. They opened with tracks from their newest album Moh Lhean, released just a few weeks ago.

New songs like “The Ole King” or “Proactive Evolution” have an uplifting bent and stray away from the dark, self-aware hip hop that defines their early sound. Each band member played with concentrated precision, grabbing for new instruments like shakers, a steel chain, or adding in digital sound bites. They seemed extremely comfortable and tight as a group, navigating from serious performance to silly stage banter.

The super fan spectators sang or rapped along with the majority of the lyrics, proving how deep a connection people form with these words and band. The intimacy peaked during their encore, when they performed three of their popular older tracks acoustically, including “The Hollows” and “Simeon’s Dilemma” huddled around a single microphone, half a foot from their fans.

Impressive is the best word to sum up the experience of watching WHY?

By Amanda Martinek
Photos by Ned Molder