Wye Oak's set was interrupted early on as a stagehand tinkered momentarily with the lighting set-up.
"So everything is going exactly as planned—just exactly," singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner deadpanned. "Well shit, guys—so much for the goddammed mystique."
The duo, fresh off the release of "Tween," a collection of songs written between 2011's "Civilian" and 2014's "Shriek," was having their show filmed for a to-be-determined project—if nothing else, for posterity, percussionist Andy Stack would say afterward.
But Wasner and Stack's return to Baltimore—she now lives in North Carolina, he in Texas—was less about mystery and more about evolution. Many in the audience have no doubt seen the duo grow from the folk-inclined, loud-quiet-loud rock seen back when they still went by Monarch to the rich, densely layered songs they now craft.
The bulk of the set relied heavily on this more muscular sound, with the jangly guitars of several "Tween" songs blending effortlessly with the synth-y, bass-driven offerings on "Shriek" while sounding altogether distinctive. The link here is texture and tightness. Take 'Watching the Waiting,' a rollicking pop song with the group's two basic instrumental elements—guitar and drums—that is ostensibly the lead single off "Tween": it feels so much fuller and more cohesive, thanks in no small part to layering and electronic effects.
The same could be said for many of the standouts on "Tween," including the clanging dream-pop of 'If You Should See' and slow build and release of 'No Dreaming,' just to name a few. Given the release's transitionary backstory, listeners can see the band's growth in building and developing its sonic worlds. And like much of the best, densest songs, it's easy to get enveloped and lost inside.
As the night wore on, Wasner and Stack went a bit Benjamin Button with their set, sliding back into some of the guitar tracks off "Civilian" (the rolling title track and soaring 'Hot as Day') and reaching back for the sparse 'I Hope You Die' off the "My Neighbor/My Creator" EP from 2010.
The two-song encore featured some of the strongest of their loud-quiet-loud songs, the slow burning 'For Prayer' and noisy-racket guitar pop of 'Holy Holy' off "Civilian," a perfect distillation of the best parts of the group's earliest work.
Before introducing the latter, Wasner told the audience she and Stack only recently realized that they'd been making music in this project for a decade.
"Thanks to the city of Baltimore for making us what we are," she said.
With that in mind, the show seemed less about mystique—at least here in Baltimore—and more awe and appreciation for how dynamic Wasner and Stack have become, and how something as simple as Wasner's pounding guitar chords can still ring so nicely after all these years.