Live Music + Gig Reviews

Yeasayer @ Guggenheim, New York

30 October 2009

At times Yeasayer’s gig at the Guggenheim Museum felt like crashing the Hipster High Prom, with waiters roaming amongst plaid-clad indie kids in the upscale Upper East Side museum rotunda, trays in tow. Punters had stumped up between $33 and $45 for a full evening’s entertainment courtesy of the concert series It Came From Brooklyn’s third entry.

Yeasayer’s debut album All Hour Cymbals made an indie splash early in 2008. In anticipation of the February 2010 release of their new album Odd Blood, this one-off gig was the first chance to hear the new Yeasayer material in a live setting.

From the get-go, the band proved its rhythmic mettle, aided by two new drummers Jason Trammell on drums and Ahmed Gallab who, on auxiliary percussion, made a restrainedly strong impression.

Drizzled throughout were African influences, a splash of sitar and, in Red Cave, Irish folk sounds. Whereas the band’s first album mostly abandons attention to lyrics in favour of solid beats, ambient influences and vocal harmony, some of the new material on display – new single Ambling Alp in particular, with its catchy refrain (“Stick up for yourself, son/Never mind what anybody else done”) – impressed with its hookier, New Wave-inspired sensibility, twisted through Yeasayer’s usual, musically complicated kaleidoscope.

Audience members were asked to wear ChromaDepth glasses once the band took the stage around 10:30pm, following a support set by Tanlines whose mostly wordless, almost tribal blend of electronic music had the crowd going native.

Yeasayer enhanced the look of their set by incorporating a number of oversized colour-changing light globes, which were set up amongst the audience, as well as arrangements of smaller globes behind the band. These, when viewed with the colour-sensitive glasses, lulled the audience into an enhanced state of mind.

Though the band has no front man, preferring each of its members to be viewed as equal contributors, singer Chris Keating’s brazen, herky-jerky stage mannerisms dominated. Wearing a navy blue cuffed outfit and grabbing hold of the mic, he pounded on synthesizers in a frenzy.

But for all his domineering grandstanding, Keating’s distinctive voice can’t quite match that of Anand Wilder, who elevates the band’s vocal merits with his more polished sound. Still, they do well to include multiple vocalists, allowing for shifting musical moods and varied soundscapes, using the voice as an instrument that can be doubled as easily as any other within the band dynamic.

If this showcase is any indication, Yeasayer is only continuing to build on the reputation they made with All Hour Cymbals, complicating and changing their distinctive sound with the help of the two new skilled percussionists and a host of more lyric-driven material. All in, it should help Yeasayer get noticed amongst a pop-driven culture where hooks are key to mainstream recognition. What’s more, they’ve lost none of their bite along the way, retaining those complicated soundscapes as they forge ahead.

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More on Yeasayer
Yeasayer – Amen & Goodbye
Yeasayer – Fragrant World
Yeasayer: “It’s not putting human love and emotions on this pedestal of unreality” – Interview
Yeasayer @ Shunt, London
Yeasayer @ Heaven, London