December 3rd 2009
When you’re an indie luddite like me, it becomes a bit of a rarity to attend a gig which involves you running the gauntlet of vultures touting ill-gotten tickets outside the venue. Tonight’s appearance by Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Newcastle Academy is such an occasion, where the presence of a parade of scum-sucking touts serves as a reminder of the scale we’re dealing with here. The band have grown out of their days as NME hype victims into a permanent fixture in the indie big league. And rightly so, given the consistently high standard of their three full-length records.
But what of their live show? Well, it’s peerless. Karen O is the undoubted star of the show, a prowling, twirling, pogoing hipster dream, decked out in some sort of Amazing Technicolour Dream Poncho. Her voice is like razor blades dipped in honey, and when on ‘Cheated Hearts’ she sings “Sometimes I think that I’m bigger than the sound”, it’s with a glint in her eye. She knows she’ll never write a truer line, because she’s without doubt the most charismatic and engaging front woman we’ve seen this decade.
Not that it’s all about Karen, mind you. One of the things which have allowed Yeah Yeah Yeahs to endure the initial push is the fact that they are more than just KO and Friends. Drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner pull their weight too, and help to amplify the energy captured on the records. This applies as much to the synth-heavy songs of It’s Blitz! (understandably dominant in the setlist) as it does to the rawer older material. The newer tracks maintain their inherent groove, but still sit comfortably alongside songs from the first couple of records thanks mainly to Zinner’s guitar work which instils them with more raggedness than the versions committed to tape.
There’s a moment during the set tonight when the lights turn the ceiling bright blue and for a fleeting second you’re transported from a rainy December night in the North East to a field somewhere in the middle of summer. This sits perfectly with the triumphant, one-off feel of tonight’s show which can only be compared to that of a festival. The fact that the Academy’s floor is stickier than the boggiest of farmer’s fields only serves to add to that impression.
There are elements of tonight’s set which would come across as cloying and hackneyed in the hands of lesser bands than Yeah Yeah Yeahs. However, moments like the regular (and blatant) crowd-pandering screams of “Noo-caaa-sull” from Karen come across so enthusiastically that they just make the band seem more likeable. The same goes for the lighters-in-the-air acoustic version of ‘Maps’. Far from being a cynical and lazy ploy, it’s a genuinely warming slow dance fit for the first dance at the indiest of weddings.
It’s clear now that Yeah Yeah Yeahs are indie royalty. Few other bands out there can grab your attention so fully and so completely that you want to squeeze as much as humanly possible out of every second you spend in their company. Tonight sees them absolutely at the peak of their powers, and twenty pounds seems an absolute bargain for the privelege of experiencing it. Did someone say ‘Gig of the year’? Yep, everyone in the room.