Andrew W.K.’s Great Scheme

March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

An amazing thing happened at Andrew W.K.’s performance with the Calder Quartet on Friday night in Knoxville. It had little to do with the collaboration between the rock star entertainer and the modern string quartet (a collaboration that first took place on a tour in 2008). And although they were performed, it had nothing to do with A.W.K. staples like Party Hard and I Get Wet. Rather, I am referring to the performance of John Cage’s seminal 4’33”. That is, they sat in complete silence for about 5 minutes.

Most in attendance were anticipating a more straight-forward collaboration. While the Calder Quartet breezed through pieces by Phillip Glass and Fred Frith, Andrew W.K. spent most of the time sitting at the piano with his eyes closed. Besides a few amusing piano improvisations (in his first one, he basically just grunted while playing power ballad chord progressions) and singing three of his own songs towards the end of the performance, Andrew did very little in the way of participating musically. Someone behind me remarked, “I didn’t pay for this avant-garde shit.” Needless to say, this guy and most of the other people in the room were pissed when they were confronted with absolute silence. But they should have known they were paying for some avant-garde shit. Every thing Andrew W.K. does is performance art. Whether it’s his full stage show, the inspirational speeches, or playing with a famous string quartet it’s all in the name of the same artistic agenda.

Not that I can explain or understand this agenda. When I talked to Andrew while in Knoxville he said he was interested in being a confrontational artist. Although that’s true, I thought it was more helpful when he announced at the performance that he was, “awakening the spirit of Merce Cunningham.” I say this because the way he can manipulate an audience’s self-awareness is uncanny. Check it out for yourself:

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