Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Brixton Academy, Tuesday December 1, 2009
It tickles me that the Brixton touts reduced their calls for tickets to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to simply "the Yeah Yeahs." Three Yeahs is quintessentially American in its cheerleading ("Yeah Yeah Yeah!") whereas two is British and downbeat ("Yeah, yeah -- get over it"). The different readings were a sign. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are more New York and older than their new fans expect. As the grumpy young thing standing in front of me tapped out on her Blackberry: it's all twenties and thirties here I thought it would be the Skins generation. OMG. Whatevs.
Instead of texting my BFFs before the sparkly curtain went up I was listening to the pre-gig DJ set: Suicide's 'Cheree', Eno and Byrne's 'Very, Very Hungry' and after the gig The Normal's 'Warm Leatherette', a track that everybody respects but nobody really loves. (Grace Jones' version: whole different story.) Way to make it hard for yourself, guys.
'Warm Leatherette' sums up the band but not in the way they might think. In their early days the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were cool in the sense that anything that might not have been cool about them had been eliminated, like a pre-vandalised industrial bus stop. Even the band's name seemed calculated: an instruction as to the position the audience should take. I was never a fan before 'Maps' (which the Brits love like Coldplay's 'Yellow' - it's all very singalong) and the album It's Blitz, which is terrific. I haven't interrogated the CD notes but something changed with the new one. They wrote songs, basically, and whatever stopped Karen O smiling kept going. The melancholy was a welcome break and also got Nick Zinner off the hook. He's as cool as fuck but may I be the first to quietly suggest that his guitar playing is not as incredible as the pose. For how could it be? The guy may look like a cross between The Cramps and Liaisons Dangereuses but if he sounded even half that good the universe would have collapsed and exploded years before now.
Karen O was much as I expected: cheerleader and stylestress, a One Note But The Right Note singer, and you can't hang a girl for that. She smiles an awful lot, mainly for the cameras recording a live DVD that will look more spontaneous than it really was, and she holds up the mike all the time (the cheerleading thing again -- third time I've used the word but I'm working dude, I have no time to type this really). There were also Costumes. She swung the microphone like a club (she's not very co-ordinated) but never broke the pose until the last Pretend Ending where she tipped bottled water over her head, the deconstruction of the bowl cut signifying that it was our bedtime.
The big live surprise was Brian Chase who turned out to be as loud and sharp and modern a drummer as Battles' John Stanier. But whereas Stanier looks like he's headed for cardiac arrest Chase flicked off 75 minutes of punchy rock drumming sweatlessly, just like that: he was unbelievably good. For most of the concert what we were really listening to was Brian's kick drum and Karen squawking like a duck while Nick chugged away not unacceptably. I thought they were nice kids except they are pretty old now, and most of the set consisted of It's Blitz. 'Maps' still tears me up. 'Zero's' a ten.