Yeasayer Graces St. Louis
By
Will Kyle
4/28/2010 11:13:05 AM

4/26/10

As we have seen before, when a band relies too much on live frivolity (graciously excluding The Flaming Lips)—light shows, video, and alternate versions of songs— the result can be a bigger bummer than too much water in your whiskey.

Hailing from Brooklyn, Yeasayer made a name for themselves at SXSW in early 2007. Soon after, lead vocalist/synthesizers, Chris Keating, guitarist/vocalist Arnand Wilder (who along with Keating, graduated high school from The Park School of Baltimore a few years behind Animal Collective), and bass player/vocalist (and cousin to Wilder), Ira Wolf Tuton, went on to release the eighties infused, simultaneously archaic and futuristic sounding single, “2080,” shortly followed by their genre bending debut, All Hour Cymbals [We Are Free].

Cut to a few successful tours, psychedelic music videos (check out “Wait for the Summer” or “Ambling Alp”), live session video records (Pitchfork TV’s excellent version of “2080,” or 893 The Current’s version of “Tightrope”) and countless, most pointless, esoteric genre labels, (from “Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel,” as the band dubs themselves, to throwback- synth-hop-eighties-horror-arachnid-wobble) it’s 2010, not quite “2080,” and Yeasayer is a band on the creative shift, already trying to re-engineer not only their sound, but sadly, their live show.

A feat they masterfully achieved in the case of the former. 2010’s Odd Blood [Secretly Canadian] flows with a greater seamless cross-cultural pop infusion and multi-generational swagger than the somewhat incongruous, overworked, and at times unfocused, All Hour Cymbals.

On a rainy late April evening at the Gargoyle, hosted by Washington University in St. Louis, Yeasayer took the stage after priming the audience with Q Lazzarus’ context setting “Goodbye Horses.” The packed house enjoyed the song’s gesture—it seemed to scream, “Goodbye Horses,” Hello Yeasayer,” and no, Keating didn’t come on stage sporting a lady skin suit and nifty wang tuck back a la Buffalo Bill, but that might have proven more interesting than the weak light show.

With psychedelic morphing “dance party” lights playing tacky across scrims lined up behind him, Keating immediately launched into a voxed-up (Darth Vader-sounding detune applied to his vocal track), dulled-out, off-tempo version of the already lackluster “The Children.”

Next came “Rome,” another cut off Odd Blood, that at its best sounds akin to an out of work, overweight, Princess-less, Donkey Kong begging for beer money in the alleyways of Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market. On the record, it stands out as a personal favorite, but live was butchered with lagging, out of sync drums, and an over-cranked digital delay on Keating’s vocals. Who to blame, who to blame, sound engineer or Keating? Hmm. Either way, the result was watery and discordant.

The pointless light show (touted by press releases as the “the one dance party worth seeing in 2010,” I knew I smelled bullshit!) added nothing except the neat trick of rearranging the audience’s rods and cones.

The crowd grew more responsive when the “dance party” experimentation of the early set ended for tight versions of “Love Me Girl,” “Wait for the Summer,” “2080,” “Tightrope,” and “O.N.E.” each of which were played with dutiful fidelity.

During these nigh letter-perfect moments, the show soared. There was a clear point (during “2080’s” bridge which features the whole band chanting, “Yea, Yea, we can all grab at the chance to be handsome farmers…” while the instrumentation hangs on guitar strumming like a shimmering cloud) where the head and muscle ache of coming down post-concert ceased to matter.

Despite this energy, Yeasayer seemed bored with the crowd of students at Washington University. In between songs, Keating whined about his mom not answering his calls, yakked some pith about the band’s trip to Wash U’s apparently riveting coin museum, and giggled about how shitty the scarecrow audience was compared to their (insert liberal East coast college) fans.

Keating was spot on about the audience, who perhaps weren’t stoned enough, attempting to jeer them to life with questions of homework and school obligations. Why do they call it Washington University anyway? I always thought it was in Washington State!

Few were feeling the vibe, and those that were, like the scraggly kid in the smoking jacket, were blind raucous, replete with overblown leaping, fist pumping, vapid singing, and gyrating on the off chance Keating might eyebrow indulge them.

Other than that, the audience giggled between songs about how the under-whelming, yet oddly distracting light show and alternate workings of songs made them want to go home, crank their favorite Yeasayer song (there are plenty of candidates), submerse themselves in a certain deep darkness, and slip into the trance Yeasayer is capable of engendering on their records, and (hopefully) during more “important” gigs when atop their game.

Yeasayer’s first St. Louis concert at the Gargoyle felt phoned in, every bit the just another stop on the line through Middle America it was, where nothing (except opinion) is ever truly at stake.

 

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