Music: Who Knows? Live In Concert

"Who Knows? Live In Concert"

(Music Video Distributors) 2006

At the beginning of 2000, a man calling himself Andrew W.K. seemed to appear out of nowhere in an explosion of soaking-white electricity. This film documents A.W.K.'s first four years...


Andrew W.K. stalks onto stage in a white t-shirt, faded blue jeans and sneakers, his long, scraggly hair covering his stubbled face. He leans over the electric piano and starts playing a simple line that sounds like it's his piano-lesson homework. His band is huge. There have to be at least three guitarists--not counting the mutton-chopped bassist, of course. Christ! He's even got two drummers. All of this crammed on to a tiny stage. The piano line reaches a climax and then--everything explodes. The quarter-dozen guitarists, the two drummers, mutton-chops on the bass; all that potential energy comes crashing down in a single instant. The crowd goes wild. Andrew W.K. goes spastic. And the song is just about the dumbest thing you've ever heard. Gloriously dumb. My god, is this guy for real?

As can be inferred from the title, this DVD really isn't about answering questions. It's about partying. Hard. The genius of Andrew W.K., if you'd like to call it that, is that he is able to pull it off without ever coming across as insincere. His music is about pure energy, and that's what he delivers. Even when an excessive bit of partying on stage caused him to perform several shows from the confines of a wheelchair, he still brings the manic energy like he's leading an extreme jazzercise class at the old folks home.

Mr. W.K., nee Andrew Wilkes-Krier (allegedly), grew up in Michigan where he--it will come as no surprise--took piano lessons as a child. At 17 he moved to New York City where he pursued songwriting and eventually assembled a band. As the DVD shows, he continued to assemble that band well beyond the bounds of necessity, but the sheer number of instruments pounding out W.K.'s simplistic music lend to it an impact and a massiveness that are quite impressive to behold. Who Knows? gathers together live performances from between 2000 and 2004--a period in which the band put on over 600 shows. In between songs, the viewer is treated to snippets of Andrew's life that are, to say the least, bizarre. More often than not, it's just a 30-second shot of Andrew staring intensely into the camera from his bare-bones bedroom. Other segments are eerily reminiscent of that freaky video in The Ring.

The question most everybody has when first encountering Andrew W.K. is: Is this for real? The songs are melodic, super-catchy pop-metal explosions that explore the themes of partying, partying hard, partying to the point of nausea, and pretty girls. There's also one about how you better be ready to die because Andrew W.K. is coming over--to party. Don't get the wrong idea, though. These are absolutely not songs about drinking, sex and assorted debauchery. They are about the purity of enjoyment and release. They're also unbelievably silly.

And that's where the genius comes in. Andrew W.K.'s songs are the musical equivalent of Zen koans: they clear the mind thought, leaving behind only sensation and experience. More so than any other "bad" music I've ever heard before, Andrew W.K.'s songs cannot be parodied. They are either emphatic works of self-parody themselves, or else they're heartbreakingly, almost touchingly, earnest. I'm not sure it matters which. For what it's worth, the band plays it straight-faced to the end. They're there to rock out and spread some positive energy, and they bring down the house every time. There's absolutely no self-consciousness to their shtick, if it is in fact shtick.

The DVD liner notes come no closer to answering any questions. Part of the text is a letter written by Andrew W.K.'s father that has a conspiratorial tone as it implies that his son's persona is merely an extension of his own long-held philosophies on life. The rest of the text is a bizarre but entertaining messianic treatise on the power of positive rocking. Andrew's music, it says, "brings the boiling sonic magma to our ears--that sound of impossible magisterial glory." You get the idea.

Who Knows? is a fun and enigmatic DVD, whether you're looking for that inner spark of enlightenment or you're just looking for a rocking good time. Party on!
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