Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Live Last Night
By David Malitz
In terms of pure kinetic energy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O is unrivaled in today's rock-and-roll landscape. She continuously flailed, hopped and lunged her way across the 9:30 club stage Friday night, a water-spewing blur in a bright neon mini-dress, howling her way through one garage-dance-punk rave-up after another. The rest of her band -- guitarist Nick Zinner, drummer Brian Chase and occasional guitarist/bassist/keyboardist David Pajo -- was there, too, more than happy to cede the spotlight to their charismatic frontwoman while focusing on the sparse, sinewy sounds that shape the band's backbone. That dichotomy -- to be at once overblown while also understated -- was what made Friday's show so spellbinding at its best moments, and what has helped the New York group become one of the most compelling rock bands of the dwindling decade.
(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)
Nearly 10 years into the band's career, the 30-year-old Karen O (short for Orzolek) has managed to keep the grimy charm that made her a breakout star during New York's early 2000's garage rock revival while adding a healthy dose of art-rock elegance. That transformation fits the band's current state. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are far removed from playing small, dirty bars at early hours of the morning.
Even the 9:30 club felt too small for Orzolek's massive on-stage personality; no wonder most of the band's appearances these days are near the top of a festival bill. Similarly, the stilted funk-rock of songs "Black Tongue" and "Phenomena," both played early in the set, offered visceral pleasures but felt almost trite. Orzolek's animated delivery was enough to salvage them, but they lacked a certain bite.
When the band dipped into songs from its most recent album, "It's Blitz!" the Yeah Yeah Yeahs seemed more in their element. "Zero" glided majestically on a simple three-note riff and Chase's standard dance-rock beat. It was one of the first songs of the set that proved that Orzolek is a top-flight vocalist in addition to being an arresting performer as she seductively cooed her way through the verses before launching into full-on belting mode for the chorus. The pulsing rhythm and Orzolek's soaring vocals made for an intoxicating combo. The same formula worked to perfection on "Soft Shock," which also found Zinner doing what he does best -- making a simple guitar line resonate with the power and edge. Sort of like, well, The Edge.
The hits were saved for the end -- spindly dance-floor fave "Y Control" closed the set while "Maps," the band's biggest smash was the obvious encore. Both are from 2003's debut "Fever to Tell," but the legend of the latter has only grown over the years, covered by the likes of White Stripes, Arcade Fire and Radiohead's Thom Yorke. It remains a wholly captivating song, even when forced to watch through a few dozen cell phone cameras that obscured the view of anyone not in the first few rows. Orzolek wailed the simple chorus -- "Wait! They don't love you like I love you!" -- over and over with increasing urgency until her message of love was unquestioned. The show ended one song later after barely 70 minutes, but nobody will be accusing Orzolek and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs of limited effort.
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