Last night had all the ingredients for a great performance: a band fresh off the Soundstrike, a sold-out show, a cool new stage set-up, and people taking off their clothes. Yeasayer returned to Phoenix in support of its third album, Fragrant World. The band briefly touched on politics, but mostly focused on turning the venue into a big, sweaty dance party.
After driving straight from Los Angeles to Crescent Ballroom last night, I have a pretty good feel for the full range of Yeasayer's performances. The band fares well in a festival setting, though small details are lost. I had a good sense of what to expect last night thanks to the band's performance at FYF. The setlist didn't change that much, but the stage set-up did. See the full Yeasayer at Crescent Ballroom slideshow.
At FYF, the silhouetted band stood in front of a bunch of mirrored prisms -- features that looked like something Animal Collective could have come up with. Last night, the group was surrounded by a bunch of silver bowls and half disco balls. From a distance, Yeasayer's light show is the main spectacle, but up front, the main focus is musicianship (save for the occasional flash of a strobe light).
Chris Keating may be Yeasayer's main singer, but Anand Wilder and Ira Wolf Tuton pitch in as well to create layered vocal harmonies. Most of the band's distinctive beats aren't created by a synthesizer, it's Tuton's bass pedals. It was really cool to watch Tuton and the percussionist work together to create the instrumentation while Keating or Wilder sang.
Last night's show was a pretty big deal because it was Yeasayer's first stop since they left the Soundstrike. I say left because their name disappeared from the roster before Tim McIlrath released his statement.
"What is it with people boycotting Arizona? We're not trying to punish you even if we don't agree with the policy," said Chris Keating, acknowledging that the crowd didn't vote for this legislation. Instead, they took to Twitter and set up a contest:
The band performed eight of the 11 songs from the two week old album Fragrant World, so if fans hadn't heard the album yet, they got a good taste of it last night. The response was varied, but I was glad to see a couple of guys in the all ages section singing along to every single song.
The new songs sounded good, though I'm sure they would have had a better response if Yeasayer swung by a little later on this tour. "Longevity" and "Demon Road" were stand out tracks as the disco ball halves lit up for "Reagan's Skeleton," erring more on the side of disco than psychedelia.
Not surprisingly, fans responded best to the old songs. Anand Wilder spaced out some of the vocals to "O.N.E." and the crowd generously sang "hold me like before/hold me like you used to" in his silence. The band slowed the song down a bit, but that didn't stop people from dancing in the newly transformed Crescent Ballroom sauna. The smoke and the sold out crowd made the venue hotter than I have ever experienced, so clothes started to come off. Ira Wolf Tuton was now performing in a sleeveless undershirt, and most of the crowd looked the same way.
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Yeasayer at Crescent Ballroom. Personal Bias: It was my third time seeing Yeasayer, but first time seeing the band in Phoenix. I would have seen them at the Rhythm Room in 2010, but the show was sold out, so I drove to Tucson. The Crowd: was in dire need of a shower. Overheard in the Crowd: "I think they're pumping pot smoke in." Random Notebook Dump: "2080" is a bitch to sing along to.
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