An energy lingered over the streets of Downtown Manhattan on a Friday at dusk. It drifted through the canopy of flowers on trees suspended over the bustle. Spring finally completed its slow arrival, as I wandered through side streets that echoed a palpable buzz. On the corner of Bleecker St., a side door announced my destination—Andrew WK’s Grand Piano Party at SubCulture.
Andrew WK at SubCulture in NYC
The liveliness of Friday night set me in a haze, as the air hung heavy with beer and distant laughter from sidewalk cafes. It was dream-like.
I slipped off the street into the quiet atrium of the elegant SubCulture, following the lead of a few stray arrivals down a dimly lit stone staircase. A bouncer ushered me into the dark underground venue, an intimate room with theatre seating filled with the anticipatory silence of a show that’s already begun.
My footsteps echoed with a hollow thud while I located a seat towards the back; on stage, Andrew WK played a few delicate keys on a grand piano while breathing heavily into a microphone. I scanned the room with slight confusion as the crowd watched intently, eyes glued to the performer’s head resting against the mic, partially obscured by his long brown hair.
“This is a song dedicated to Philip Seymour Hoffman,” he muttered, continuing to wheeze through the speakers. Any expectations of a raucous Andrew WK “party” were promptly dismissed. The song came to an end and a few people in the crowd laughed awkwardly. “That wasn’t supposed to be funny,” he said. “I was just trying to picture what it felt like when he died.”
My skin crawled. “Was this his shtick?” I wondered to myself. The show continued in much the same manner, typically resulting in some admittedly pleasant piano melodies accompanied by quips and ridiculous lyrics from Andrew WK. The crowd milled about the seating, often excusing themselves for a drink from the stately bar before returning to their spot through the darkness.
Eventually, Andrew WK broke character slightly, and turned to the crowd asking for a glass of ice water. After pleading for a few moments, someone ordered a glass from the bar and brought it over to him on stage. He sipped it loudly into the mic and looked around.
“You guys didn’t think I actually had a plan for this show, did you?” he said to uproarious laughter. It was as though the crowd collectively let out a sigh of relief. Clearly, the confusion and awkwardness was felt throughout. “I mean, what do I know about playing piano?” Andrew WK continued to the crowd’s pleasure.
He then proceeded into another number, this one lasting at least 10 minutes and characterized by the full-out pounding of his fist on the keys. WK certainly wasn’t a complete amateur when it came to piano, but it was difficult to avoid the sense that he was “winging it.”
As the final piece came to a close, Andrew WK began to walk off-stage at a snail-like pace; he dragged his feet behind him as the crowd cheered politely for an encore, or perhaps more accurately, a proper explanation of what they just saw.
This closure never arrived, however, as the performer left the stage through a door never to return. Two men behind me laughed hysterically at the notion of being “trolled” in-person by Andrew WK, rather than what had just occurred. Some of the crowd filed out, others took to the bar, while about 50% simply sat in their seats waiting for something else to happen. Nothing did. I had the sneaking feeling that this was the point.
I walked out, chuckling at the surreal nature of the bizarre performance. Bleecker St. was now basked in the glow of streetlights; I had transitioned from one dream to another.
Article by Nicolas White
For more photos of the show, try the Village Voice.