In the backwoods of the imagination lies Mike “Yes Yes” Ersing, nestled somewhere between Daniel Johnston, Kimya Dawson, drug addled dreams, and a healthy portion of crooner meets beat poet. Perpetually shifting between wistful and angry freak folk with occasional country undertones, this Buffalo native played on Tuesday January 5th to an intimate crowd at Arlene’s Grocery.
Yes Yes reads as some kind of manic songbird with a flighty whistle that segues into drifting encyclopedia-like stream of consciousness verse. Blathering of mind games and text messages and the books he listens to and the songs he reads, in only five short tunes he asserted himself as a Ritalin kid unleashed. Shaky and hyper, yet extremely articulate, Yes Yes is hard to follow and impossible to peel away from. This is, in part, from his tendency to alter song names and ad-lib lyrics – but he’s also characterized by a stage presence unlike any other. In short, he looks in dire need of an exorcism, from his puppet-like body language to his erratic eye rolling to the forceful precision with which he taps his guitar.
Let us not forget that amidst all this lunacy lies a good bit of humor. He is fond of trailing off into gibberish and stumbling around the stage barking quips like, “your favorite pretense is to act vacant and like a whore.” Yet, with such punchy songs loaded with creativity, at times his performance ached for more structure. Yes Yes has a gorgeous falsetto that radiates with an Andrew Bird vibe, but it felt wasted in moments that faded into nonsense or songs that ended too abruptly. Never put a muzzle on an artist, for sure, but there is something to be said for recognizing a skillfully intricate folk melody and taking it to a more accessible level.
Either way, audiences will be forced to follow Mike “Yes Yes” Ersing intently—without ease but with gross admiration. Catch him in New York City this week at Pete’s Candy Store (Tues), Zebulon (Weds), or Pianos (Thurs).