Concert Review

Yeah Yeah Yeahs at The Marquee: Spazzy and Brilliant

Karen O's charms are mysterious. The Yeah Yeah Yeah's frontwoman can't sing, for one. Truth be told, I'm not sure she would score well singing her own song, "Maps" on the pitch-sensing mic for Rock Band -- at least not in expert mode. She's regarded as a sex symbol, but she looks a lot like a younger sibling of Joey Ramone, and he wasn't really considered "sexy." On stage, she comes across like a friend's spazzy little sister, just back from dance class -- still in her unitard and tights, practicing her new moves while sipping a Capri Sun and bugging you to play Mall Madness with her.
Oft off-key though she may, it's impossible to take your eyes off Karen, as she demonstrated at the near-capacity Marquee Theatre last night, where the YYY's showed they very may well be the best band to come out of New York this decade, and are quite possibly the best art-punk band ever. Not that they're strictly an art punk band -- they are, after all, much more famous for their radio-ready ballads than the thrashy No Wave-type punk that made up most of their first record, Fever To Tell, and the DJ-ready electronic frills and steady beats of their latest, It's Blitz.

Not many bands of any genre can match the versatility of the YYY's, as Karen, drummer Brian Chase, guitarist Nick Zinner and stand-in instrumentalist David Pajo (Slint) showed last night. From the opener "Shame and Fortune" - synthy and brooding, like an Erasure song - to the punky follow-up, "Black Tongue" through the riff-driven "Phenomena" they sounded great. 

Switching up her accessories frequently (scarf made of giant gold sequins for "Gold Lion," werewolf mask for "Miles Away) Karen kept the ladies in the crowd guessing about her fashion choices, to great effect. Conferencing on stage and playing "Tick" after seeing a sign in the crowd during the encore, they also showed they're pretty down-to-earth for such a seemingly odd bunch. It seems weird to think of the YYY's eventually taking this show to amphitheaters and small arenas, but if you'd asked me seven years ago whether they'd be playing rooms this big three albums in, I probably would have doubted you. Karen's performance artist streak carried well in clubs, I'd say, but she couldn't cut it in a place as big as the Marquee. Boy was I wrong.


"Shame and Fortune"
"Black Tongue"

("Human Fly")

"Down Boy"
"Dull Life"
"Gold Lion"
"Heads Will Roll"
"Miles Away"
"Y control"

"Cheated Hearts"
"Date with the night"

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs at The Marquee Theatre in Tempe.

Better Than: Probably any show I've seen at Marquee.

Personal Bias: I first saw the YYY's playing in support of the self-titled (Master) EP at The Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights and have been a fan ever since.

Random Fact: That Cleveland Heights show was something of a homecoming show for Karen and Brian, as they're both Obies. Maybe it's that I'm tuned-in to such things, but I thought I spotted a lot of Cleveland-themed clothing in the audience last night. 

Further Listening: "Heads Will Roll," from the new record, is incredible, as is "Bang," the band's first notable song. Oh, and have you heard those KO At Home demos?

By The Way: I'm not sure I've ever seen a hand-made poster-board sign asking a band to play a song quite as out there as "Art Star." Seems like more of a Dave Matthews Band thing.

One More Thing: Anyone else remember how this YYY's got their big break? At the height of his band's influence, then impossibly-cool Strokes' guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. wore their button on his guitar strap while performing on Saturday Night Live. That seems so very long ago.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar