Words and photos by AJ Miranda.
Before I get to Yeasayer (pictured left), I just have to say that the opening band Javelin is easily the worst band I’ve ever seen in my life, and that’s just because I haven’t had the displeasure of being ear-raped by Brokencyde in concert. Picture two bros who look like they jerk off exclusively to American Apparel underwear ads. Now picture them dicking around with uninspired beats on generic drum machines as one of them karaokes Blondie and Mariah Carey hits with his out-of-key falsetto and limply skips around the stage with pseudo-hip-hop bravado, like he’s Kanye West on hormone replacement therapy.
The gimmick (as if the music itself isn’t one) is that they’ve got a bunch of home-painted boomboxes on stage with obscure cassette tapes dictating the set. We’re supposed to respect this band because they compose their electro tunes from dollar-bin cassettes picked up from cratedigging sessions in Williamsburg and San Fran’s Mission District. The reason I don’t respect them for it is because their music is as stale and lifeless as the source material they spend hours searching for. How about searching for some charisma and a vocal coach instead? Javelin should be the opener at your little sister’s senior prom, not at a soldout Yeasayer show that cost $24 a head.
So, Yeasayer. Yeah, these guys are pretty good. You’d hope a band was good if they’re selling out La Zona Rosa (capicity: 1,200) two nights in a row. From the set’s opening song, Yeasayer had the crowd—composed largely of frat dudes and 19-year-old junior college chicks flirting with their first taste of hipsterdom—wrapped around their experimental/dancey fingers. On a purely musical level, Yeasayer is worth taking seriously, even if their fans aren’t.
The band opened its light show/headlining set with the menacing and dark “The Children,” a wise decision as the creeping and methodical build of menacing noise and demonic processed vocals made your chest rumble and made you seriously reconsider your decision to eat those mushrooms five minutes earlier. It’s as close to invoking the same serene and stark feeling of a Radiohead concert as I’ve gotten with another band. What’s an introductory oddity on Yeasayer’s recently released Odd Blood has a raw and overwhelming power live. Other pluses: The catchy hits were reliably catchy, like All Hour Cymbals‘s “2080” and set-closer “Ambling Alp.”
Yeasayer was at its best as a musical unit when it emphasized dynamics, vocal harmonies and emotive qualities. Look, Yeasayer will always carry weight among hipster kids who think being from Brooklyn and dressing ’80s thrift-store chic is as much a measure of a band’s worthiness as being able to play instruments. But the reason a song like “Ambling Alp” has the potential for crossover mainstream success is because when Chris Keating sings “Stick up for yourself, son. Never mind what anybody else’s done” with desperation and steadfastness, you know he means it. There’s a disarming sincerity there, which mostly translated live.
But in interviews lately, the band has talked about how much they want people to dance at their shows. The problem is, Yeasayer, you ain’t a dance band. The worst, most drab and uninspiring moments of the set—and there were plenty—came when Yeasayer tried hard to be an ’80s party band. Synthesizers work best when they’re used sparingly for layering and creating a fuller sound. When they’re the focal point (and you mix it with liberal use of drum machines), you’re asking for trouble. The techno beats and repetitive strains that went nowhere were more filler than killer. By the time the closing “Alp” came along, I was more relieved than I was excited to finally hear a good song following a string of awkwardly executed pseudo-dance crap.
C’mon, Yeasayer. Embrace your weirdness. Don’t try so hard to be a crowd-pleasing empty shell of a band when you know you’re capable of greater. Isn’t that why you brought Javelin along as your opener? Be Yeasayer and nobody else. You must stick up for yourselves, sons.
Yeasayer performed at La Zona Rosa in Austin, Texas, on April 10, 2010.