Words by: Justin Gillett | Images by: Steven Walter
Yeah Yeah Yeahs :: 09.10.09 :: Fox Theater :: Oakland, CA
If a band is able to fully expose itself and connect with listeners it will surely find itself with a pack of dedicated fans that only grows with time. While it is no doubt difficult to ignore the critics and make music that is personal and self-disclosing, when a band does it's refreshing and brings to light a style of music that most would be afraid to even attempt.
For the Yeah Yeah Yeahs it seems like such character is at the cusp of its existence. The band's very nature encompasses a mentality that ignores public opinion and musical mores. By doing so, the band has sharply defined itself and ridden a wave of success that has led to a spot as one of the preeminent pop rock acts of the early 21st century. With a stage show that highlights singer Karen O's natural performance ability as well as Nick Zinner's manic guitar skills and Brian Chase's dance inspired drumming, the band has matured and grown since releasing its debut album, Fever To Tell, in 2003. The band released its third studio LP earlier this year, and the trio has been busy on the tour and festival circuit (even replacing the Beastie Boys as a headliner at Lollapalooza). The overwhelming success that the group has experienced over the past few years has manifested itself in a band that is now playing at a peak level, and fans who showed up for the performance at the newly restored Fox Theater in Oakland bore witness to Yeah Yeah Yeahs' steady rising excellence.
Fans of the electro dance fusion genre were in luck, as YACHT opened up with a rousing and extremely physical set. The musical duo, comprised of Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans, came out onto the stage and immediately fell into choreographed musical dance numbers. As they moved in jerky movements and shouted into their mics it seemed like they were trying to prove their musical prowess to the crowd. YACHT's second album, See Mystery Lights (released by the dance punk label DFA), has received significant critical praise, which has forced the band to deliver the goods live. While Bechtolt and Evans never picked up an instrument during the duration of their set – Bechtolt controlled the music via a laptop positioned at the side of the stage – the pair's energy was enough to garner the attention and admiration of the crowd. Dressed in a white suit as he flailed onstage, Bechtolt acted like a modern version of the young David Byrne. The surprisingly industrial beats behind YACHTs music were a vast departure from the pop laden tracks that fill the group's most recent release. While lacking any sort of instrumental forays, the performance was aesthetically pleasing and worked in favor for an act that's in the process of defining itself. YACHT finished its set with the current single, "Psychic City," which, due to the downtempo nature of the song, was the least enjoyable part of the set.
When the house lights dimmed in the elaborately decorated, Persian themed theater, Zinner and Chase walked to their respective instruments and the crowd burst into applause. But the collective roar that ensued when Karen O steeped up to her mic was a greeting fit for a queen. Known as a performer who garbs herself in outrageous outfits, O's costumes at the Fox – starting with an intricately patterned green and purple poncho/throw, which was quickly shed exposing a similar colored leotard - highlighted her eccentric stage personality. As they eased into the set, it was evident, both in tracks off its most recent album as well as notable classics like "Gold Lion," that the band is really hitting its stride right now. One would be hard pressed to find another front person with as much charisma and command of the stage as Karen O. As a band, the three members have been able to hold true to the indie scene, yet still attain commercial viability.
| Yeah Yeah Yeahs | 09.10 | Oakland, CA|
As Karen O frolicked across the stage and belted into the microphone, it was hard to focus on what Zinner and Chase played. The frontwoman's all encompassing regulation of the stage made it difficult for the other two musicians to exploit a defined presence. But as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played on it was easy to understand why the group is popular yet still musically and critically respected. As Karen O flaunted herself onstage, giving fans a finely tuned musical spectacle, the drummer and guitarist offered up impressive arrangements that oftentimes went unnoticed. Zinner's guitar playing occasionally seemed reserved and not quite as pronounced as it could be. He used such a plethora of effects that it was hard to discern just what he was playing in certain segments. Aided at times by an extra musician at the side of the stage who occasionally came out to play keys, bass and acoustic guitar, Zinner proved more than able to hold down many of the band's songs with striking efficiency.
Chase's drumming, more often than not relying heavily on the hi-hat, was subtle yet oftentimes punchy, especially on dance-y numbers that required a more pronounced beat. By playing traditional, a style uncharacteristic of most modern rock drummers, Chase latched onto a sound that was not driven by precision but instead focused more on song structure and changes in tempo. His playing on slower tunes was highlighted as he got into a deeper groove than Zinner or Karen O seemed to be working in. While the group's music doesn't really let Chase experiment with rhythm too much, what he does in the confines of the band's sound couldn't be more suitable.
As Karen O stuffed the head of her microphone into her mouth for "Zero," the first single off the band's recent It's Blitz, the audience definitely got the impression that this is a woman who gives 110-percent of herself in concert. Putting her leather jacket on during the song – one of her many costume changes during the show – and skipping and grinning as she yelped her distinct vocals, Karen O affirmed that she's one of the preeminent bandleaders of her generation.
Closing the set with an acoustically refined version of "Maps," the Yeah Yeah Yeahs demonstrated their versatility as a band that can play everything from floor stomping, disco inspired tunes to acoustic, melody driven pop songs. If the band continues on the course it outlined at The Fox they will surely continue to find success as a band that's unafraid to experiment with its sound regardless of the consequences.
Continue reading for a few more pics of Yeah Yeah Yeahs in Oakland...