Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
Sometimes I avoid a band for a long time because I’m worried I’ll hate them and that hating them will make me feel uncool and cranky. Let’s be clear: I am prone to bouts of uncoolness (wearing UGGS in public sometimes) and crankiness (conversing before 10am is always a chore) so this fear is justified, but there are bands that come right out of the gate that just have such a complete aesthetic and whose audience seems so ready made and pre-packaged to adore them that it leaves me feeling extra those things. Like it’s all too easy. Those bands are the popular kids who seem preternaturally confident and easeful and beautiful because they are at the peak of their lives. Five years later they’re usually fat and boring. That’s how it works in high school. And that’s how it often works in rock and roll. One minute you’re Heather Chandler with the red scrunchie and the next you’re the Kaiser Chiefs.
“They whooped when they were told to whoop, sang along to almost every track, and radiated that state of heightened, agitated restlessness that’s totally sexual but not because it doesn’t happen in bed, just in rock and roll.”
Everything I first heard about the British fourpiece WU LYF told me they were one of these bands, and not, as I’d hoped for a split second, some rad Wu Tang Clan offshoot. The evidence:
1. They’re from Manchester, which is just cool. 2. Their manager used to work with the icon of Mancunian cool, the legendary Tony Wilson (who founded Factory Records and was responsible for the careers of Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays). 3. They chose a deliberately un-Googleable name, that makes you feel stupid if you don’t know how to say it (it’s ‘woo life’) and which is an acronym that stands for something incredibly pretentious and borderline nonsensical (World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation). 4. They do almost no press. 5. In further display of insularity, they concocted nicknames for themselves. Bassist Tom McClung goes by “Lung,” for example. 6. They keep deleting their own Wikipedia page. 7. They recorded their debut album Go Tell Fire to the Mountain in some crazy Gothic church in Manchester and then released it on their own. You want to hate this band because they are so clearly the kings of their own privately curated world of cool and you find that world pretentious and intimidating and flagrantly arrogant but at the same time would do pretty much anything to get in on that action because here’s the thing: The songs are really good. Unabashedly melodramatic, raspy vocals delivering cryptic lyrical purges, layered over tight, aggressive, but genuinely anguished crescendos of echoey-synth pop.
Going to one of WU LYF’s famously transformative live shows is like that moment in every teen drama where the popular girl finally pays attention to the secretly hot nerd boy and the second she does he bails on all of his friends to follow her around in a state of embarrassing but really enjoyable devotion. You’re in! And in this case, the point of entry was out of the oddly balmy fake-spring-but-it’s-actually-fall New York City air, and into the dark split level caverns of the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
Sold out doesn’t begin to describe it. This can’t have been safe, the number of pretty boys and girls crammed into this place. They were even stacked row upon row behind the sound booth, plastic cups of beer in hand, necks craning to see the pristine outline of the four skinny, super-stylized young men bathed in creamy white light emanating from a giant WL fixture that lorded over them as they played.
The band was everything the blogs promise. Tight and sure-footed, synth pop roughed up by the epic croak of frontman Ellery Roberts (what a great name) whose entire body twitched as he sang, greased back pompadour bopping in time with his tiny shoulders, tense beneath the shoulders of a faded cropped jean jacket onto the back of which someone had drawn the band’s acronym in pink lettering. The crowd — all cool kids themselves, it appeared, were happy to kiss the ring. They whooped when they were told to whoop, sang along to almost every track, and radiated that state of heightened, agitated restlessness that’s totally sexual but not because it doesn’t happen in bed, just in rock and roll.
Terrified I’d be crushed by streams of worked-up Vice employees and graphic designers who also play bass, I started to head down from the balcony and to the back of the floor as the set neared a close. “It smells like delicious marijuana,” said the girl walking in front of me in a clipped British accent. She was six feet tall and blonde in a ballerina skirt with slicks of black eyeliner on. Her friend looked like a naughty Zooey Deschanel. I followed them out the exit, just before the encore, which is also apparently the time in the set where all the groupies get place for post show WU shenanigans (WU-Nanigans?). As they turned left towards the backstage door, I turned right toward the L train. The WU LYF’s a fun place to visit, but I’m not in high school anymore.