Yelle Made Going Out on Monday in Phoenix Worth It Last Night
All photos Troy Farah
Sometimes, no amount of coffee or marijuana can help you from lying around a dingy house instead of being able to write. I wasn't excited about Yelle. I almost considered not going at all. But I'm glad I forced myself to get out because this show was possibly the best I've seen all year, and certainly one of the most exciting I've seen at Crescent in a LONG time.
Things weren't running smoothly from the start due to an opener's no-show, but then Lemonade suffered a power outage during their first tune. It probably wasn't a long wait, but it briefly killed the vibe. Thankfully, the percussionist brought everyone back. He was wearing some kind of Pakistani pajamas and a blank white shirt, but his exaggerated smile (not exactly a shit-eating grin) was the real fashion statement.
I've never seen anyone so excited to bang a MIDI drumset, but this was something else. I felt so excited for this -- afrobeat mixed with mid-'80s synths lurched forward with energies like Toro Y Moi meets Holy Fuck (someone else also said Duran Duran versus Yeasayer - a good observation). Lemonade also showed a gentle side, and the drummer dude plucked soulfully at a shiny opal guitar, lulling us into watery caves. It may be tempting for some to attribute his enthusiasm to drugs, but one look at his face says it was genuine. He played barefoot. Maybe it was sensual.
But, this being Crescent, few other people were dancing, which sucked. I guess I bring this up a lot, but hipsters suck at dancing because they don't do it at all. Sometimes I wish I lived in a city that could forget it was a Monday night.
Fog came up, lights went down. Two guys in thin, French-style mustaches came on wearing hoodies screen-printed with white bricks. For some reason, they reminded me of the Mario brothers. They, from here on referred to as The Twins, jerked their arms in robotic motions, aiming their drumsticks like katanas. Then, Yelle bounced onstage robed in an oversized sweater with a Magritte-inspired face and red tights, the boundless energy and art skool dressings that promised inspiration.
She seemed to fly or maybe slowly ricochet, twirling her arms and her bangs rapidly. One couldn't help but bounce with her. The Twins marched to the front and rattled on the face of their kick drums. The bricks on their sweaters bloomed into colors. A giant, upside-down peace sign pulsed in blasts of white, later switching to CMYK streaks, then all kinds of other hues. The many lights really tied everything together, as did Yelle doing some of her own percussion, hitting two small drums and a cowbell.
I guess the dancing really wasn't a worry -- a few people suddenly dared to let themselves go. I was surprised! But even Yelle made a few comments about the lack of energy. She demonstrated how to swing your hips. "I know you guys can do this," she said, half smiling. That seemed to help.
After a lesson in how to clap and keep time with a drummer, it got wild. The "drops" in these songs were the kind of effectiveness dubstep aims for, but Yelle could even wrangle a crowd through trap beats and got people to sing along on "Mon Pays." There wasn't much singing along, which was to be expected given Yelle only sings in French.
The band left the stage. Even if they did an encore at this point, it would have seemed like a short set. People started yelling "Yelle," which was kind of meta. The band returned. It was a costume change -- now Yelle wore a blouse covered in a rainbow of rubber bands while The Twins wore matching gold mesh shirts. The Twins excelled in their call-and-response drumming, synchronized like an Olympic Swim Team. Every band should double up on drummers -- nothing gets people excited quite like this.
At one point, The Twins hugged. I'm not sure why, but this made sense. Then Yelle removed a black veil from a disco ball and flooded the room with color in what many Instagram-snapping people must have agreed as being the night's peak of visual stimuli -- and that's saying something for an event more brilliant than most cartoons.
And the audience's returned energy remained almost constant. The actual encore was received like mother sparrows' giving meals to their nest, only it was delicious beats instead of grasshoppers. The band's final tune, "Complètement Fou" ("Completely Crazy," for non-French speakers) was a perfect descriptor for the night. I would never expect Phoenix to show so much support in these circumstances, especially when most of the music is non-English. After last night, I'm proud of my city, and most of all, I'm in a much better mood.
Last Night: Lemonade, Yelle at Crescent Ballroom
The Crowd: It's finally cold, so all the hipster were wearing their sweaters, just like an autumn Urban Outfitters commercial.
Overheard: [While Lemonade took the stage]: "Lemonade! Lemonade! Get your ice cold lemonade ovah here!"
Personal Bias: Language is an unconvincing truth. I'm not sure what this means, but it sounds like a bias I would have.
Update: Mija, the night's first opener, contacted us to say she definitely showed up for her gig, only, she says, the Ballroom didn't have any equipment for her to use. She lives in L.A. and came straight from a show in San Francisco. "The whole thing was really frustrating and the promoter was trying to make it seem like it was my bad," Mija says.
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