Features

Yeah Yeah Yeahs Invade Emo-ha

Sokol Auditorium, March 5, 2004

by Sean McCarthy

What better place than an old gymnasium to showcase an enormously hyped trio from New York that specializes in playing heavily-influenced '70s garage punk?

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs could not have come at a better or worse time in the music world. The females who trailblazed the alternative movement of the '90s have mostly settled into maturity, so lead singer Karen O is providing some much-needed young blood to the alternative/college rock scene. However, the band is in danger of slipping under the radar (much to the delight of YYY fans) in the mainstream because of listeners burning out on hearing about another "latest New York-based saviors of rock band" who play minimalist garage music.

Even if 2004 gives us another heaping mess of skinny tie-clad hipster garage bands from New York, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs will no doubt stand out because of their live performances. Playing a set list that was almost evenly split between their self-titled debut and their 2003 Fever to Tell release, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs proved that even with a silly name, they could control a crowd with as much as a wink.

 

Not that the crowd needed much in terms of policing. Most of the audience, donning horned-rimmed glasses, ironic t-shirts, bad shirts with horribly mismatched ties and meek expressions, were fairly well behaved. The opening act, Beep Beep, had a set that was way too short. The following band, Ssion, was an art-house train wreck. Dressing up in lion, cow and zebra costumes, the members, led by Cody Critcheloe, literally fell all over themselves. And if the costumes weren't enough, the band included a multi-media presentation throughout the 30-minute set, complete with tacky '50s imagery mixed in with some kinky S&M. Now, I'm as big of a fan of gender-bending as anyone, but if I never see another homosexual twist on the 1950s-era high school instructional videos, it can't be soon enough.

Photo courtesy of YeahYeahYeahs.com

Thankfully, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs proved to be a frill-free ride. Rail-thin guitarist Nick Zinner, with a hair style that Nick Cave would even love, came on and threw the crowd a curve ball, performing the slow-burning closer to Fever to Tell. To have a band this energetic start off on such a down-tempo note was courageous, and totally fitting, as Karen O entered, extending every lyric to its maximum effect.

For a lesser band, including so many mellower songs into a set would kill the momentum of a show, but some of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs best, most powerful material comes from slower tunes like "Modern Romance" and "Cold Light." Donning a Luke Skywalker-type utility belt full of discarded cassette tape, Karen O occasionally threw some of the tape into the audience. Even though she grinned bashfully throughout the set, with one raised hand she was able to work the audience to a frenzy or a hush.

The cathartic release was provided with "Tick" and "Black Tongue." While "Maps" provided the last remaining proof that this band will likely be around a great deal longer than their peers. Not that the performance was flawless. The band resorted to the mid-show drum solo, and even though it was totally tongue-in-cheek, it was still a momentum-killer.

Toward the end of the show, the crowd got rowdy, with two audience members stumbling onstage -- and thoroughly getting their asses handed to them by the bouncers and likely a few angry audience members. And in a move that would even make the members of L7 blush, Karen O had a look of initial disgust and rage as an unused (hopefully) tampon was tossed onstage. Putting her hands on her hips for a second, she picked up the hygiene device and stuck it in her mouth. Afterward, she was donning a grin that seemed to stress her cheekbones.

To lift from one of their songs -- "Y control" indeed.




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