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I could hear Wolf's unusual vocal style—a monotone drawl that sounds like it's coming from the back of his sinuses—in Pryde's lackadaisical flow. Pryde is an outspoken fan of Why?, having covered the band's "Good Friday" (retitled "Hood Friday") and called Wolf "my biggest influence and the love of my life."
Pryde is hardly alone in her adoration for Why? and Wolf; the slightly unshaven front man was greeted by gleeful shrieks from a sold-out crowd at Lincoln Hall on Sunday night. Not that it's weird for people to cheer for the band they paid to see, even at first sight, before the first note—but I'm still surprised to see that kind of devotion directed at a guy whose new album opens with lyrics about mumps and enlarged genitalia. Why? played that song ("Jonathan's Hope") and some others from the forthcoming Mumps, Etc. (Anticon/City Slang), but by and large the set seemed designed to underline the versatility of the group's six-piece live lineup, not to focus on any one album.
Flanked by percussion rigs, Wolf lurched around the stage in a sleeveless T-shirt with a cat's face, delivering lines about youthful existential crises with a cold, oddly affecting punch. He remained the center of attention for most of the evening, but percussionists Josiah Wolf and Ben Sloan gave him some real competition: adroitly interlocked, they traded high-speed patterns like figurines in a musical cuckoo clock, helping drive the band's nimble rhythms.
Why? have always been an outsider act in hip-hop, with their penchant for xylophone flourishes, lumbering bass lines that sometimes sound as if they're fighting with the beat, and Wolf's fluid vocals, which feel like little that we're used to calling "rapping." Openers and labelmates Doseone and Serengeti occupy similar fringe territory. The two MCs focused on new material—G Is for Deep and C.A.R., respectively—and repped two very different sides of the Anticon family. Doseone drenched his soulful yawp in layers of lush synth-pop and littered his set with funny commentary about parenting and best friends, while Serengeti's surreal rhymes rolled off his tongue and bounced off funky beats with an ease that suited his relaxed stage presence. For Chicago fans of avant-garde rap, there was no better place to be Sunday night than Lincoln Hall.