I can admit to being a bit behind the game in acknowledging the fact that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a great rock band. The New York indie scene was already enraptured with the trio long before I came around to find them. So while last night’s performance at Webster Hall was nothing new to the city, but I had been anxiously awaiting my first chance to see them live.
Of course the first thing any concert-goer will notice is Karen O’s outlandish attire and piercing howls. But I was also amazed at what solid performers the entire band were. I walked in half expecting to hear them loud and distorted yet able to make up for it with raw energy. Instead, their sound was tight without seeming stale or overly rehearsed.
That raw energy was definitely an integral piece of what makes the YYY’s so great. Throughout the concert I could feel Brian’s drumming rattling my chest. While Nick displayed ample chops with his guitar. I love the rail-thin skinny, slightly awkward looking guitar players. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood fits a similar mold, and I love watching them slump over their guitars while also throwing their bodies around the stage in fits of sonic fury.
This is probably brought on by my own desires to have been in their place.
And of course there’s Karen O, whose onstage persona is well documented by now. I normally hate lead singer theatrics. Watching Coldplay’s Chris Martin reach his hand up into the sky during a dramatic moment in his song always makes me want to retch.
Yet there was something different about Karen’s jumping around, costume changing, water spewing and wild dancing that seems to draw the entire crowd to her. I credit it to the fact that while she looks completely at ease in her own quirky style, she also doesn’t seem to take herself to seriously. Seeing her in a flurry of leather and tinsel could easily be off-putting but often she would look out into the audience with a wide grin spread across her face as if to say to us all "It’s okay. Enjoy it, laugh at it, love it, whatever." She obviously has a good time performing and that’s what I love to see. It was also great to catch Nick look over at her between songs and smile at her antics.
Her voice is an awesome force that has to be heard in person. Her shrieks and snarls bring so much vibrancy to the music that can’t be caught on record. Her vocals were so powerful that near the beginning of the show, I felt myself cringe at a piercing howl and looked up to see that she was only holding her mic at her chest.
There’s an illustration of Karen on their official site that conveys her vocal intensity perfectly...
Not to say she isn’t an accomplished vocal talent. Not once during the night did she seem to struggle to find the right key, hit a high pitch or maintain a low, soft tone.
The band played across their entire repertiore and (of course) the older songs got the biggest reactions. Karen called out their last song by saying that they were "going to go all the way back to 2001", which made me feel a bit old.
I mean, shit, that doesn’t feel so long ago. I just recently realized that OK Computer is 10 years old this year. I was obsessed with Nirvana in high school and that was ‘93.
That’s when it hit me. I felt a lot of similarities between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Nirvana. The YYY’s can definitely hit the soft/loud drastic shifts that Nirvana mastered, and they both had a vibrancy that blew me away when I discovered each of them. Listening to them made all the other music I was hearing prior to that sound muffled and lifeless.
I enjoyed watching Karen happily interacting with the crowd and seeing the band members come out to tune their own instruments before the show. I get a good sense of them being pretty down-to-earth despite launching into the status of Indie Gods.
I’m pretty sure that a lot of people look up to Karen O in a way not unlike how I idolized Kurt Cobain. I know that if the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were around when I was in high school, they definitely would’ve had a huge impact on my life and my views towards myself like Nirvana did.
Here are a couple of tastings, a bit older, but I love her drastic shift from raw fury to bouncy girlishness:
Looks like Pitchfork staked out a good position in the front of the concert and obviously employs a much nicer camera than me. Linky.