Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Ventura Theater
By David Cotner 04/25/2013
It seems somewhat understandable, if not completely reductive, to think of Yeah Yeah Yeahs in terms of appearances. The human organism being the human organism, this is to be expected. If you want to know where to send the mail, you create a series of pigeonholes. “Art punk.” “New blonde.” “Korean-American.” “Indie darlings.” And yet with musicians, the tables are theoretically turned in this regard. Such is the glory of being able to close one’s eyes and just immerse oneself in the purity of sound. Although, to quote Hemingway, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
In the case of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the evolved aspects of its life as a going artistic concern necessarily precipitate a hard look past the opiate of appearances to examine the content of its artistic character and ask, after 13 years, “What have you done for me lately?”
This day of this performance, suitably enough, is the day their new record, Mosquito, flies out.
The great disservice done to many of the bands that hit their stride around 2003 or so, alongside Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is that they have been reduced to the level in the public consciousness of the one-hit wonder. Disposably evanescent, these bands are laid down in sacrifice to the great god K-Tel, expectations driven by what’s in the encore, for that is where the juiciest meat awaits. Backlit in cobalt blue and bathed in screams, the walking glitter-bombed thrift store that is Karen O bounces around onstage to “Sacrilege,” the first single off Mosquito. She’s blessed with one of the most refreshingly startling voices in pop since Jerry Cantrell’s revelatory retch, and for all the doomed hokum of the lyrics in “Sacrilege,” O does prove that she’s in full command of her narrative when she plucks off her black angel wings and casts them to the side.
The group barrels along into “Black Tongue,” and the rhythm section of Slint guitarist David Pajo and drummer Brian Chase is a workhorse, while guitarist Nick Zinner beats their plowshares into the IED of his scything guitar explosion, warbling liltingly one moment and machine-gunning it the next. Not every moment is as explosive as the last; constant chaos isn’t always the point — and yet the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the stage inspires a rather outsized level of devotion. This is a band for which feedback was invented to be used, in much the same way as these guitars were invented to excuse the lazy descriptor of a guitar being “angular.” And now the stage is bathed in cobalt again, as O sports a miner’s helmet, plying its blinding light as her guttural keening echoes into near-dub majesty. Presently, balloons festoon the audience in honor of tonight’s record release party.
In truth, the collective breath here is held for the advent of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, mega-smash love song “Maps,” the song that launched countless romances the summer it was so popular, and likely continues to do so. An acronym of “My Angus Please Stay,” in honor of O’s relationship with Angus Andrew from the band Liars, it holds even more significance for those whose significant others’ names began with the letter “A.” “Gold Lion,” a song that is for all appearances, rather fittingly lifted from Love and Rockets’ “No New Tale to Tell” (with a little of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” as well), paves the way for “Heads Will Roll,” and it’s a procession that emphasizes how many songs these days are divided into two moments: crowd-pleasers and phone-checkers.
For every “Heads Will Roll,” thankgodfully, there were few moments at which the capacity crowd wasn’t dancing and singing along. At the encore, “Cheated Hearts,” “Tick” and of course Maps emerge, and of course in the listening it becomes violently clear that judging by seeing is the quickest way to invert what Yeah Yeah Yeahs is all about. The goal is to be the best Yeah Yeah Yeahs that they possibly can be, every day of their lives. In this and at this point, they have succeeded — brutally and ecstatically so.