Are we getting to a point in popular music where maintaining a definable identity is equivalent to stagnation? Constant reinvention seems to be the order of the day in indie rock, but the type of transformation between Yeasayer’s 2007 debut All Hour Cymbals and this year’s Odd Blood is on the caterpillar/butterfly order. That’s not to say the new Yeasayer is a more beautiful creature, just virtually unrecognizable. But thinking back, the metamorphosis should’ve been evident to me from the 2008 fall tour; Yeasayer had already progressed beyond its freak-folk phase. Still, it was far from synth-pop…
I’ll confess to a degree of apprehension as the show began. “The Children”, Odd Blood’'s opening track, is a slow, moody piece that didn’t quite rise to the occasion, what with all the upbeat 80s bubblegum pre-show music. These guys have incorporated the atmospheric-synth-segue into their live show much like their kindred spirits in Animal Collective, and the anticipation was almost unbearable after the first song. “Strange Reunions” was next, and again, the unorthodox rhythm and low-key murk were giving me blue balls. Just not much energy at all.
Then they busted into “Rome”, possibly the most beat-driven rump-shaker in the arsenal, and it was all over. Maybe they just wanted to keep us on tenterhooks as long as possible, the better to blow us away in the long run. The energy never flagged the rest of the show. The indie kids were somehow still leaning motionless against the balcony railing.
By now, nobody besides Eagles fans goes to shows hoping to hear carbon copies of the records, right? Just as I remembered, everything was fuller, lusher, more dynamic, and sometimes radically different, especially the old songs. “Wait For The Summer” is a wisp on the album, but it becomes this viscous, undulating rush in concert. “2080” is one of the more kinetic and pointed songs on Cymbals, but it’s nothing compared to the madness that ensues when they play it live. The added electronics enhance the futuristic theme, and the rapid-fire vocals in the second half of the song evolve from campfire chant to militaristic attack. No semblance of whimsy survived in the song; the room was shuddering from the intensity.
Most of the new songs were more amplified than altered, but overall, Chris Keating’s vocals were much grittier, far from the sugary moan of the album. “Tightrope” (from last year’s Dark Was The Night compilation) took on a belligerently anti-pop tone, Trent Reznor-style subversion. “O.N.E.”, “Mondegreen” and “Madder Rose” all benefitted from much more prominent guitar, grinding away a full layer of cheese. Also, the prominence of percussionist Ahmed Gallab cannot be overstated; his role on Odd Blood is diminished, but he is more instrumental than any other musician in turning these synthetic pop songs into living, breathing ecosystems of sound on stage.
The crowning achievement of this show was “Love Me Girl”. It still started out as moody disco, but they added this ingenious technotweek/percussion jam that built into a shockingly heavy (for Yeasayer) industrial breakdown before returning to glitch-pop perfection. Even the hipsters were gyrating at this point.
After “Ambling Alp” ended the set, the roar was deafening. It seems much more common these days for the audience to give perfunctory applause and a few woo-hoos, but this crowd might’ve rioted without an encore. Gallab came out first and conducted the crowd’s cheering by hand; who knows if these guys say the same shit to the crowd every night, but there was a profound aura of gratitude in this room. Only another full set could’ve satiated us.
A single artistic vision becomes clear when Yeasayer plays live. The old folky stuff gets more futuristic. The synth-pop gets tribal. It’s as if they planned it this way from the beginning. I won’t be surprised if the next album is prog-metal, and it all morphs into something indescribable on the ensuing tour, but it’s no wonder the momentum continues to build as date after date on this tour sells out. No way this band stays in little theaters for long. If they get a prominent enough slot at Lollapalooza this year, they’re going to blow every one of the headliners away.
SETLISTThe Children, Strange Reunions, Rome, Wait For The Summer, I Remember, 2080, Love Me Girl, Tightrope, O.N.E., Mondegreen, Madder Rose, Ambling Alp; E: Grizelda, Sunrise