The quintessential rock concerts of yore — the kind your Gen X parents regale over the dinner table — are maybe something we’ll never get back. Ticketing snafus, lengthy coat check wait times and 18 dollar cocktails hamper the modern concert going experience. They work to puncture this romantic myth of transportive, uncanny live music. Enter Yves Tumor, the Romanticist and the exception.
Taking The Warfield stage, Yves Tumor got straight to the point. The constricted respiratory intro of “God Is a Circle,” the first track off their latest LP, drowned the venue in sinister splendor. This LP, which Tumor released in March 2023, packs a long-winded, Fiona Apple-style title: Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds). This lack of brevity pays off; what follows thematically, productionally and lyrically is wildly intricate and even spiritual.
As of 2023, Yves Tumor has the alt-rock secret sauce recipe down pat. Heavy on shoegaze and industrial sounds, their music is cut with vintage pop glamor a la Prince or David Bowie. Onstage, hips cocked in daisy dukes layered over top of leggings, they evoke these musicians physically too. Nowhere is this glitz more on display than on tracks such as “Jackie” and “Crushed Velvet” from Tumor’s surprise 2022 release “The Asymptotical World EP.” On the EP, Tumor’s favored heavy bass lines splinter to reveal moments of sonic and lyrical intimacy before interceding again, immersing listeners in its dynamic, unforgiving topography.
“Crushed Velvet” is more lyrically bare than much of Tumor’s discography, but it still manages to affect, especially when performed live. “Crushed velvet/ I’m in Heaven/ Feel myself when/ I’m in crushed velvet” is the refrain that Tumor drills to remarkable effect. Their repetition and invocation of heaven heightens the hedonism of it all, which is the ideal (but seldom realized) vibe for a concert.
Tumor’s setlist was fashioned carefully to favor their latest record without feeling inaccessible to those who are more familiar with their past work — a testament to the quality of Praise a Lord. But Tumor was in part there to play the hits too. The crowd turned up to “Gospel For A New Century” early in the night, and later for the encore, a satiating trifecta of “Strawberry Privilege,” “Ebony Eye” and “Kerosene!”
The outlier in this glittering runup is “Ebony Eye.” Off the latest album, it is maybe the most cinematic song Tumor have put out to date. Sweeping strings distort the scope of the track, making it appear more expansive than it really is. In actuality, ‘Ebony Eye’ is about a physical closeness: “Swing your arms in the October air/ Both she and I, I hold her by the hips,” they sing amid the swelling instrumental.
There’s no good way to prime an audience for the highs and lows of an Yves Tumor concert, and the weird way in which it all becomes a sensual high — the aberrant bass swallowing you one moment then spitting you out the next. It’s part of a small minority of concerts in which earplug wearers might really have the right idea.
In the end, Tumor’s performance delivers on the high stakes their music inherently sets up. In an interview with DAZED magazine in 2016, before they had received any kind of acclaim or even released a full length project, Tumor expressed their desire to make “mood music” above all else. Experienced live, “mood music” feels like a ridiculous understatement. What Tumor manages to achieve is more like a denaturing of the world that they’ve built, and later a vibrant regeneration, like the scorched earth after a forest fire.