Words and Photos by: Andy Moran
If you told me that Andrew W.K., sick the king of party himself, buy had a plan to play the entirety of I Get Wet, seek his first studio release and the album that put party rock on the map thanks to features in Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Jackass? And was to be supported by Vundabar and the bluegrass juggernauts themselves, Tigerman Whoa? I would have assumed you were joking. Nothing could possibly be that perfect and weird. But after confirming with several of my friends that not only was it actually happening, but that it was going to be held on New Years Eve? And at a venue as small as Paradise Rock Club? It was game over, man.
10pm on New Years Eve rolls around and kicks off a delightfully strange set from the Massachusetts native trio Vundabar, picking several tracks to play off their newly released 2015 LP “Gawk” in their jangly, reverb heavy ways. Even breaking out into an avant-garde musical conversation between drummer and lead vocalist just 10 minutes into their set. What they were talking about is beyond me, but it certainly made me laugh.
11pm arrives, and after the crowd’s hype starts to die down after the initial sighting of a real life upright bass during Tigerman Whoa’s soundcheck (a rare sight around these parts) Boston was once again was able to feel the full force of who they are as a band: An anti-establishment driven punk/folk/bluegrass goliath who take no prisoners in a city where it’s hard to find a unique and memorable sound. Lead singer and banjo uke extraordinaire Kaz’s low, scratchy growl of a voice is as raw as it gets and doesn’t take much to get the crowd revved up with his relentless energy. Playing a mixture of old and new, and occasionally taking the swig of beer from a kind audience member loaning their bottle, I’m positive there were at least several groups of people who left that venue with a new band to look up as soon as they got on the T on their ways home.
Two openers down, one party to go. Tigherman exits the stage and we’re left waiting in excitement for what we were all truly there for. Then, when 11:49 hits, with no introduction or context Andrew W.K.’s unmistakable voice sounds off over the house speakers:
“666… 665… 664…”
I look around to see if anyone else hears what I hear.
“659… 658… 657…”
We all think it’s just another sound check and brush it off as such. But it doesn’t stop any time soon, and the concert goers are confused.
“598… 597… 596” “
Slowly but surely, we all realize what’s happening, and it makes all the more sense. It’s no sound check; it’s a count down from 666 to midnight. Second by second, minute by minute the count inches closer to zero; the crowd gets louder and louder. People start pulling out their phones to snapchat the New Year in this strange way. Andrew’s voice over the speakers gets progressively louder and more amped up as he reaches “100… 99… 98…” One by one, the musicians take their place on stage and start counting along with the audience until finally:
“3… 2… 1!”
The lights come up, balloons drop from the ceiling of Paradise Rock Club (a nice touch by the event coordinators) and Andrew runs on stage for the first time since 2012. Addressing the audience with his most cheerful “Happy New Year” and without skipping a single beat, he immediately begins his trek through some of his all-time greatest hits by ferociously exclaiming, “Hey you, let’s party!”
Andrew through the audience into full gear with no intentions of slowing down, only pausing three songs in to claim how awesome is it to leave 2015 behind if you had a cruddy year, or to be bringing in 2016 in the middle of Boston’s partiest party. Whether or not you had any emotional baggage upon entrance from 2015 was irrelevant, if only for the next hour and a half.
What can I possibly say about his set from there? I’ve seen and photographed at least a few hundred shows in my career, but what happened that night was truly unforgettable. The only qualm I have about it was that it eventually had to end sometime. It was truly the only real way to ring in the new year – getting drunk with strangers clad in all white shirts and jeans, listening to loud, pounding music, watching some random 20-somethings stage dive onto a crowd of more drunk 20-somethings (with one lady who didn’t understand that she was supposed to jump off the stage at some point, and not just stand there awkwardly dancing and mouthing the lyrics that she didn’t have prepared. That was kind of a strange sight, but Andrew played it off well, giving her a bear hug when the song was over. That gesture definitely made me smile for sure.)
I left that set, ears ringing and body sore, not just thinking “Wow, that was a great show” but rather “Wow, I really don’t know whether or not this year can top what just happened.”
2015 meant many different things to many different people in that room that night. 2015 was stressful, successful, obnoxious, disappointing. Whatever it may have been to you, Andrew WK, the pope of party, the sultan of sound, gave you a reason to believe that 2016 was going to be good. And for the first few hours of the year, it was truly something special that won’t easily be forgotten.