My Camera and I Survived Andrew W.K.

By on February 6, 2015
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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

“Hell of a show to forget my earplugs,” I said to the curly-haired man working the merch table hidden away in the back. My ears were already pounding from the first two openers, so I sought refuge in the catacombs of the venue. “Bummer man. You want mine? I got an extra pair,” he said. His kindness amidst this madness would be something I found among many people that night.

Due to some last minute changes, Andrew W.K. had been moved from the Beacham to its little brother next door, The Social. The reason couldn’t have been lack of sales, as the line formed early and snaked nearly all the way to the traffic light at Orange and Washington downtown.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

After looking through various tank tops with PARTY HARD written across the chest, I decided it was time to claim my spot. The small, intimate venue was already crawling with a diverse cast of characters ready to pray at the “Temple of Party.”

There was the flamboyant gentleman who insisted on hugging everyone that passed him at the bar; the Andrew W.K. lookalike clad in his distinctive white on white; the Hawaiian shirts, biker jackets, jerseys, unicorn masks, baby faced hipsters, bros, and grizzled old men. Nearly every make and model of human being could be found strewn about this place.

Andrew and Frank Pino

Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

The crowd’s muttering erupted into bedlam as the band members took the stage. One by one they lined up, whipping the crowd into frenzied cheers.

Andrew W.K. bounded out on the stage like a pro wrestler – his hair flying, his fist pumping. He immediately took to the keyboard and started hammering away, much to the delight of the packed house. By this point it was pretty clear that no one was going to have use of their ears tomorrow.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

During this riotous intro it became clear to me that I’d need a better spot if I was going to use my long lens, so I waded through the crowd of people to shoot from the bar in the back. That proved to be a tricky move; the place was so tight that I got stuck back there with my camera over my head.

Just as I thought I was going to be stranded, a man with a denim jacket appeared and pulled me past. “Hey! He’s got a camera, let him come through!” He yelled with sudden clarity.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

His move came just in time, as a new wave of energy pulsed through the crowd. Andrew W.K. started his first strictly party-themed song of the night, “It’s Time to Party.”

This was the second real song of the show and already there were crowd surfers. I ducked a rogue foot and got some shots of Andrew W.K. from the banister, but it soon became clear that this was the kind of show I needed to get down into the pit to really experience.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

I spent the next song, “Take It Off,” trying to navigate my way to the stairs on the right side of the stage. Once I got there, a human wall prevented me from going any farther. I sat back and enjoyed “Girls Own Love” before I broke through.

I saw W.K.’s entire band for the first time when I got to the bottom of the stairs. Andrew W.K. was flanked on the right by three guitarists, including longtime friend, Erik Payne. The other two guitarists seemed to be plucked from two entirely different movies – on the far left was Dave Pino,shaggy and dressed from head to toe in clashing Hawaiian print, while Frank Werner, on the right, had slicked-back hair and wore a muscle shirt.

Dave Pino, Frank Werner, Erik Payne

Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

During a small break in the action, I maneuvered right next to the stage. “Hey, can I switch spots with you for this song?” I said to an older guy with a prime angle on the action. He motioned with his hands “Sure! I’ll shield you, it gets wild up here!” Never before have a seen a group of people so intoxicated, yet so polite.

Again, a stranger would be helpful again, seemingly on cue, as “The King of Party” dove into the song, “Ready to Die.” A mosh pit broke out to my left and almost sucked me in. I got the shots I needed and got out of there, thanking “Shield Guy” on the way out.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

At the start of “She is Beautiful,” I was on the complete opposite side with a wide-angle lens. The crowd swayed back and forth in drunken unison to the chorus.

During a break, the huggy guy from the bar, who happened to be in front of me, tapped me on the shoulder, “You wanna get closer?” “Uhh, sure!” I said, marveled that this was happening again.

I enjoyed my new view as Andrew W.K. started a crowd chant during “Tear It Up”. The audience yelled “Hey!” as they spilled over onto the stage.

That was another bizarre thing about this whole show: people could just reach out and touch Andrew W.K. and the band members. The musicians played with the audience and pulled them on stage before big, yellow-shirted security guys waved – or tossed people back down into the pit.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

The next notable song was “Long Live the Party.” Though his themes tend to repeat themselves, Andrew stressed in our interview that maintaining the level of “party” is crucial to success.

After the new T-Shirt song, the concert went into nearly a twenty-minute trance where people moshed, crowd surfed, and fought a pretty successful war against security.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

During this daze, I made my way to the stairs in the middle for the first time – now using a medium-range lens. I noticed that other photographers were using external flashes, and it seemed that security had bigger problems, so I decided to click mine on.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

About midway through the song “Never Let Down,” a ripple came through the crowd – throwing people backward. Suddenly, the guy in front of me collapsed onto me, jamming his elbow in the worst possible place it could’ve landed.

Needless to say, I didn’t get any more photos for that song.

As the set carried on, the “President of Party” addressed people of Orlando. He said that most of the band was originally from Florida, then changed the lyrics of his song “I Love New York City,” to “I love Florida.” If you’re wondering how the syllables match up, the answer is party.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

 

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

Andrew W.K. finished the written part of the setlist with “We Want Fun,” and I abruptly realized we were eighteen songs in. It seemed like either much longer or much shorter than that – as time had lost all meaning. We had just experienced an hour and a half of the closest a sober person can come to being high.

After a piano solo/encore, Andrew W.K. broke into his most popular song, “Party Hard.” At this point, security was basically at a state of surrender as five or six audience members took turns crowd-surfing to the stage. I was camped on the stairs by “Shield Guy” again, but far enough away to stay out of the madness.

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Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN

What unfolded over the next twenty minutes – which included two more encores and three more songs, was truly unique. The small venue in downtown Orlando felt like a portal to another world, a world where frat bros high-fived skinny hipster kids wearing unicorn masks. Andrew W.K. rules the land of acceptance – showing us how music can connect people.

As strange as it may sound, you’re gonna want to check out an Andrew W.K. show before you die.

For tour dates etc, check out http://andrewwk.com/

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