i never thought i’d yell ‘i get wet’ in the presence of a string quartet

Prior to arriving at San Francisco’s Swedish American Hall on October 7, 2009, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Andrew WK, guru of partying hard, was on tour with the Calder Quartet. Would it be a night of tracks off AWK’s new piano album, 55 Cadillac? A strings-enhanced rendition of “Party ‘Til You Puke?” My guess was closer to the latter, but nothing I’d imagined prepared me for the majesty of the evening ahead.

As I entered the venue, I was handed a print-out for the evening’s program. I walked upstairs to the performance space and discovered it was set up recital-style – neat rows of chairs with a center aisle, leading to a small stage backed by a red velvet curtain. After taking my seat on the aisle, near the back, I read over the program. Alongside Andrew WK classics such as “I Get Wet” and “Party Hard”, there were songs by Bach, Philip Glass, and John Cage’s infamous “4’33″”. Excellent.

After a faux-rocky start (AWK approached the stage looking tense and nervous, “messing up” his first piece as a segue into the conversational¬† “Friendly Gestures #4 and #3”), things hit their stride with the Calder Quartet’s performance of “Interface” –¬† amazing and a touch avant-garde. As the CQ played, AWK often sat listening with eyes closed, appearing genuinely moved by what was happening. AWK’s odyssey into spontaneous solo improv was up next, and incorporated coughs, sniffles, and the sounds of scooting the piano bench around and rubbing the mic on the ground. Though the performance elicited giggles from many, I’m certain Andrew WK was quite serious about what he was sharing with the room. Rounding out the first half of the program was the intense and captivating “Honey Flyers” – a three-movement piece that reminded me a bit of the Kronos Quartet’s collaborations with Clint Mansell.

The second half included an understated Philip Glass piece and another improvisation by Andrew WK. The program then took a more raucous turn with the Calder Quartet helping Andrew WK rocket through a sing- and clap-along medley of hits. It was hilarious hearing a roomful of people yell out “I get wet” while being accompanied by violin, viola, cello, and piano, and exciting to see people celebrate classical form with whoops and smiles as opposed to the staid golf-clap so commonly heard in symphony halls.

The night’s final piece was John Cage’s “4’33″”. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a song that consists of nothing but silence. Many in the crowd thought it was a joke, many were confused, and many laughed, coughed, or shifted uncomfortably in their seats, unconsciously contributing the piece. Those who knew what was happening insistently shushed those who were making noise, making their own contribution.

For me it was thrilling to see the worlds of rock and classical unite. The crowd comprised members of both worlds, and likely exposed each to something outside their respective spheres. It was clear that both Andrew WK and the Calder Quartet do what the like (and like what they do), and from the amount of applause it appeared the crowd concurred.

SET LIST: Prelude in C Major/Ave Maria (JS Bach), Friendly Gestures #4 and #3 (Fred Frith), Interface (Tristan Perich), Spontaneous Solo Piano Improvisation, Honey Flyers (Christine Southworth), Company (Philip Glass), Spontaneous Solo Piano Improvisation, I Get Wet, Party Hard, I Love New York City (redone as I Love San Francisco), Dance Party, 4’33” (John Cage)