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I’ve been a fan of YEAH YEAH YEAHS since their 2002 self-titled EP was released, but I’d previously only seen them play live twice, both times at huge outdoor venues (The Siren Festival in 2002 and Central Park Summerstage in 2004 opening for DEVO). I’d always suspected that, like most bands, they are really at their best in a dark, small club where legendarily maniacal singer KAREN O can fully indulge her theatrical, beer-spilling sensibilities. My suspicions were confirmed at this show.
Officially billed as a ‘practice’ or ‘warm-up’ show for their upcoming tour, I was looking forward to this show since it would be an opportunity to see a band that normally headlines large venues like Roseland and Hammerstein Ballroom play in one of my favorite clubs. Being a high-profile, sold-out event, it was natural that other musicians and famous writers showed up. Between me and my girlfriend, we spotted Rolling Stone writer DAVID FRICKE, INTERPOL guitarist DANIEL KESSLER, and former SMASHING PUMPKINS guitarist JAMES IHA in the crowd.
Anyhow, judging from the reviews I’d read of the two previous shows (the first at Maxwells and the second the previous night also at Bowery Ballroom), I knew to expect a lot of newer material from the forthcoming Show Your Bones, so I wasn’t sure how they would balance playing these brand new songs with what I assumed to be the crowd’s desire to hear the older, more familiar material. Furthermore, they were joined by Kill Rock Stars recording artist IMAAD WASIF on some of the newer songs and I wasn’t sure how that would affect things either. But from the first moment when they launched into their new single “Gold Lion,” I had no doubts that this would be a show to remember. They followed it up with many more new ones including “Dudley” (the only other new song I’d previously heard since I hadn’t heard the entire album before this show). The ferocity, grace, and intensity with which they played these songs was truly a sight to behold.
The new material at times seems as noisy and intense as the first half of Fever to Tell, but at other times seems to settle into a more melodic and anthemic frame of mind as evidence by the aforementioned “Gold Lion” and “Dudley.” Either way, the new album should be fantastic judging from what I heard at Bowery. What’s even better is that despite the fact that the set consisted of so much new material, Karen O had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand the entire night and the crowd was really into it. Although Karen O and guitarist NICK ZINNER (who took a picture of the audience at one point) deserve their plaudits, to me the true hero of the band is drummer BRIAN CHASE, whose manic, jazz-influenced playing guides the entire band.
Towards the middle of the main set, they played “Art Star” from their first EP and “Machine” from the EP of the same name and towards the end of the main set they played “Y Control,” “Tick,” and the hidden track from Fever to Tell. The first song in the encore was an incredibly strong version of “Maps,” perhaps their best and definitely their most well-known song, which Karen O dedicated to the other band members’ lovers as well as to her father, who was also in the audience.
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