At first, almost all of Andrew W.K.'s concerts were conversion experiences. Touring in support of his 2002 debut disc, I Get Wet, he encountered crowds that weren't quite ready to surrender to his effervescence. The album boasted some of the year's most triumphant choruses, but it also seemed to reek of target marketing. It felt like the old beer-commercial bait and switch: Instead of popping a tab and immediately being immersed in a world of amorous women and die-hard friends, disillusioned drinkers would still be alone and depressed in their basements. Instead of encountering an absurdly friendly rock star who really cares whether his fans have a great time, cynical concertgoers at the Beaumont Club last October expected a calculating, image-conscious performer who would go through the motions and shake a few hands before retreating to his tour bus.
What they got was a genuine populist who encouraged hundreds of fans to share the stage with him, then stood outside on a chilly night chatting with his new followers and letting them hug him for warmth. When he returned to the region in December, playing the Granada, W.K. enthusiasts didn't wait for an invitation. Almost immediately, spectators swarmed the singer. Throughout the set, W.K. and his bandmates bounced between bystanders, never chiding them for crowding their space. In less than two months, the word had spread: This guy is the real deal.
In July, he came to town again, playing with the Warped Tour. This time he faced a fresh challenge: Would politically aware punks, the type who worship Bad Religion and other anti-establishment acts, take to an artist with such a party platform? Apparently so; W.K. inspired more dancing than any other artist at the Verizon Amphitheater stop. He also unveiled a few selections from his September release The Wolf, on which he'll be focusing at this week's Bottleneck gig.
Given that W.K.'s reputation has spread so rapidly, the club promises to be packed with full-fledged fanatics who appreciate his work on a variety of levels. But even at this point, a few holdouts might believe his act is too good to be true. At least W.K. hopes so.
"It's only natural that we're protective of our brains, and things have to prove themselves before we accept them," he says. "I consider it my responsibility to prove to people that this is something they can trust, even if it takes years. There always will be challenges, and I never want to get too comfortable. I want there to be people who don't like it that I can try to get to like it.
"I value and appreciate those who believed from the very beginning without questioning it," he continues. "That's very, very awesome. Great thing happens when people come with good expectations and have those expectations met. But if everybody liked it or nobody cared, then it wouldn't be as exciting to hear somebody say 'I really liked it.'"
Like many musicians, W.K. hears that a lot. Unlike the majority of his major-label peers, he's quick to respond with a heartfelt thank-you. On the home page of his Web site, awkworld.com, W.K. answers ten questions, some of which are more compliments than inquiries. Each reply is signed "your friend, Andrew W.K." Perhaps even more important than the quality of the correspondence is the quantity. Scroll to the bottom of this section, and you'll see this: "1-10 of 347."