But it was their first opener, Hush Hush, that stole the show with his sexually exuberance and unhinged charisma. With little more than fifty people in tow, the Berlin-based one-man show swaggered on stage like the strange offspring of Jack Sparrow and President James Garfield’s beard.
And, if that’s not enough to sway you, Hush Hush’s bombastic stage presence and soul-driven beats were unexpectedly beguiling. Performing with no instruments, just an iPod and his sexually-deviant self, Hush Hush’s shouts of “Sex Party” and “Bloody Sex” were initially off-putting, to say the least. Lyrics about menstrual cycles and “getting down on the floor” are hardly groovy, but that’s what Hush Hush was — a funkalicious fiend. When not humping the stage or parading around in his bejeweled cape, he would casually joke with the audience: “Yeasayer wrote all these songs. They’re below the stage right now.” There was an irreverent spontaneity to Hush Hush’s show that set the mood for Yeasayer’s dynamic performance later.
Yeasayer stepped on stage with a confident command befitting their already carefully controlled style. Like their fellow high school-mates, rock band Animal Collective, Yeasayer is a group unafraid to indulge in experimental styles. With their debut album, All Hour Cymbals, the Brooklyn-based group managed to meld intricate, electronic orchestrations with surprisingly catchy pop hooks.
It was an exhilarating mixture of old-school Talking Heads funk with a more modern, synthesized vibe. However, now touring on their second, more mature album Odd Blood, the band seems drawn between the two spheres of rambunctious pop and their more esoteric, electronic compositions. And on their albums, the seeming split between these disparate genres is usually avoided with polished transitions. But, that’s on their albums.
When playing live, the inhibitions of finely-tuned production were replaced by a more raw, more intimate Yeasayer. Released from the confines of the recording studio, the vocals of frontman Chris Keating hit an emotional intensity unmarred by the band’s usual bevy of electronic beats. They were free, loose and relaxed. Keating, along with his band, were inspired and impetuous. He, doing his best Thom Yorke impression while strutting about the stage while bassist Ira Wolf Tuton traded some comedic sparring. But, this stripped-down manner which proved successful on their slower, more pop-driven tracks like “Tightrope” and “Madder Red” ended when they entered their more dance-heavy tracks off.
Dense with synthesized effects and electronic beats, the tracks off of their second album sometimes near unlistenable territory. Songs like “Rome” and “Mondegreen” were far less engaging, leaving the audience agape with boredom instead of amazement. Though well-played and effectively arranged, Yeasayer seemed so entrenched in producing the same overly-produced quality of their album. The band seemed stale onstage as Keating danced between microphone and turntable like a bored ballerina.
But, this is not to say that the concert was a failure. The truth was far from it. Their electronic material may have been too rehearsed, almost dry, but some of the new material they previewed was promising in its sonic variety. “Henrietta” broke the subdued tranquility of “Tightrope” with a refreshing combination of both new wave riffs and classic rock croons. Think Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” with the flair of Flock of Seagulls. However, the other two songs, “Demon Road” and “Devil and the Deed,” stumbled where “Henrietta” succeeded in merging Yeasayer’s beat-heavy bent with palatable pop.
And, if there was one problem with Yeasayer’s live show, this would be it. On their albums, their work can be daunting in its impenetrable production. Live, the band seemed to relax and their unrefined demeanor resulted in new, intriguing depths. Like their inability to fuse genres, Yeasayer’s live show, while entertaining, was unable to unite their unedited spontaneity whilst retaining their studio refinement.
Jessica Pena is the assistant arts editor.