Selling out implies that an artist has some integrity, and that he’s relinquishing it to move product. But Andrew W.K. never had any such notions of virtue; he’s just a weirdo who perfected a familiar formula–big songs with big guitars, big hooks, and even bigger choruses–and decided to go for the gold. In the mid-90s, he was an angry rich kid in Ann Arbor with too much energy and too few outlets, and became a key figure in the Bulb Records crowd, making albums with noisy, hyperactive bands such as Galen, Beast People, and the Pterodactyls. Bulb also released his first two solo projects, the EPs Girls Own Juice and Party til You Puke, both of which had the balls-out energy of his previous output but replaced the strangled, spastic drum and guitar parts with actual fist-pumping riffs. By this point W.K. had moved to New York–the Ann Arbor noise-nerd scene cramped his penchant for overblown, cream-puffy heavy metal, according to an old friend’s post on a fan message board–where he says he spent a year working in a Wall Street office selling gumball machines. At night, though, he donned his stage outfit–a white T-shirt, tight jeans, and Nikes–and performed wherever he could, including a Starbucks, belting out his songs karaoke-style with a boom box, microphone, and air guitar. One of his demo tapes found its way to Dave Grohl, who liked it so much he gave W.K. an opening slot on a Foo Fighters tour in 2000; before long the mainstream press was hailing him as the savior of rock ‘n’ roll, and last year he signed to Island. On his full-length debut, I Get Wet, coming out later this month, almost every overdubbed track–over 90 on most songs–is played by W.K. himself, and the music has all the beauty and repugnance of an out-of-control kegger: energetic butt-rock riffs, oddly happy keyboard pouncing, and what sounds like a stadium full of heshers screaming inane lyrics about partying. Last fall W.K. moved to Tampa, Florida, to be close to the touring band he’s assembled: former Obituary drummer Donald Tardy (who joined because he “really needed to be involved with something positive”), a bassist, and three no-name death-metal guitarists–all dudes who just want to rock, no matter how sublimely asinine their ringleader. Saturday, March 16, 11 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Danny Clinch.