YEAH YEAH YEAHS ARE STILL BIGGER THAN THE SOUND
Rosina reviews yeah Yeah Yeahs @ The Hordern Pavilion – 24 July 2023
Image credits: Jordan Munns
Looking around, it’s not hard to see that Sydney has sorely missed Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Pay no mind to the crisp chill that pervades the general admission queue, or the untimely booking that will later warrant Karen O’s grateful attribution of “weekday warriors” to a strong turn-out. This wintery Monday deters none, as fans file into the Hordern Pavilion with a cultured patience befitting the already decade-long wait for the band’s Australian return. And knowing Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it’s patience soon to be rewarded.
As roadies prepare the gear, I’m confronted with Nick Zinner crouched in front of his pedalboard, wearing a cap, hoodie and face mask. His presence goes unbeknownst by the front row, even as he stands up to test strum his Gibson. It’s a good omen although it goes unnoticed – Yeah Yeah Yeahs are still thoroughly involved and enchanted with their craft, having avoided the fizzle of nonchalance that inflicts bands of similar longevity. If their latest release is to be of any indication, this version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs we get to experience is the older, wiser and certainly more reposeful incarnation capable of the etheric dark-wave turn of their latest synth-rock release.
With the abrupt cancellation of last year’s tour on the basis of health issues, Yeah Yeah Yeahs made good on their promises in returning to perform Secret Sounds sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne when joining the lineup of this year’s Splendour In The Grass. The band arrived on Australian soil for the first time since their 2013 Big Day Out appearance and, despite one year late to promote their much lauded fifth studio album Cool It Down (2022), the rescheduling has seemed to work in their favour.
As internet cool authorities begin to embrace the fashion, music, film and low-effort shimmer of “indie sleaze”, a trashy aughts aesthetic forecasted for resurrection of who lead singer Karen O is the poster girl, Monday’s crowd was a mixed bag of ages with the youth well represented. This year’s tour also coincided with the 20th anniversary of the band’s illustrious debut, the electronic moxie of Fever To Tell (2003), and the general cinema release of Will Lovelace’s Meet Me In The Bathroom (2022). The documentary has seen frequent screenings in independent venues for its vivid chronicling of a NYC garage rock revival scene that positioned Yeah Yeah Yeahs as key players among fellow 2000s indie darlings, the Strokes, Interpol and LCD Soundsystem. The art freak and music geek were all in attendance, appropriately echoing the ex-Brooklynite status of Karen Orzelek, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase. Yet it’s possible this surge of nostalgia has been predicted too prematurely, as a few empty seats in the stands could be observed from the otherwise crammed floor.
The stage is flooded with light as the band open to the epic persistence of Cool It Down’s lead single. “Spitting Off The Edge Of The World” is performed by a brilliantly bedecked Karen O, who dons white-rimmed sunglasses and shreds of metallic red as per her twenty-year partnership with designer Christian Joy. O addresses the audience with open palms, swathed in a painfully pure white light that situates her beyond the perimeter of the earthly plane, before it dims and she floats to reality to welcome the audience.
It’s hard not to fall in love with them. Brian Chase bops enthusiastically behind his lowset drums with an eternal grin while Nick Zinner maintains a look of practised concentration when zipping along with his guitar, letting small smiles out when he lines up his digital camera to catch shots of adoring fans between songs. Otherwise, it’s acutely clear that Karen O is still the chief communicator, stringing along the audience with her usual stage tricks. O stretches her mike lead across her shoulders and settles into a lunge as she effortlessly sweeps across soaring serenades and punchy yelps alike.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs treat us to a manifold setlist, brimming with recognisable electroclash-y tracks and deeper cuts such as “Rockers To Swallow”, a live rarity off the 2007 Is Is EP. The new material is confidently represented in the aching spoken word of “Lovebomb” and restrained digital drums and soft strums of “Blacktop”, alongside the electronic bombast of “Burning” and “Wolf”. Although the stands remain rather unmoved, spare a seated swaying, the floor enjoys pockets of dancers whose reeling through O’s gentle melodies morph into committed dancing in response to the energetic tracks artfully dispersed throughout.
The real joy is the later half of the setlist which boasts a heady succession of hits. O steps over light fixtures to offer her microphone to all corners of the audience to share in the gasping moans of “Gold Lion”. The ultimate tear-streaked lovesong “Maps” is cheekily dedicated to Australia’s own Angus Andrews of The Liars, of which it was originally addressed 20 years ago, as Karen O plunges the microphone into her chest, twisting it like a dagger in half-mocked resignation. The set is closed with the riproar of “Heads Will Roll”, seeing all members of the audience take to their feet and “dance til you’re dead” with arms outstretched to catch the pink confetti “Y”s showering from the ceiling.
Image credits: Jordan Munns
The band are finally called back onto stage after minutes of clapping and cheering turn into a resounding stomping from the audience. The encore is a vibrant dedication to Fever To Tell (2003), with “Y Control” offering Nick Zinner a chance to flaunt his iconic tremolo riff and “Date With The Night” proving Brian Chase can still keep up with O’s frantic spitted vocals. The band pauses into poses mid-song to soak up the last of Sydney’s rapturous applause until Karen O whips the microphone around, bashing it into the stage a couple times before she says a distorted thank you and goodnight.
A delighted murmur runs off the crowd as they spill into the frigid night air, pink paper “Y”s persistently clinging to everyone’s hair. In a way, they serve a reminder that the memory of Yeah Yeah Yeahs will be staying with us a long while. Though, hopefully, it’s a memory that won’t have to last us another ten years this time.