Upon driving to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs show last Thursday at the LC Pavilion in Columbus, we encountered what could be considered a flash flood followed by a fully formed rainbow overtaking the city skyline. Later I concluded that freak of nature was a harbinger of things to come, as the trio is a perfect example of what can emerge from trauma. For all the polarizing posturing and in-fighting displayed by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in their short career, their music—and especially the celebrity of Karen O.—has managed to rise gracefully from the ashes stronger and more illuminating than ever, whether you enjoy their latest disco-bent or not. What’s telling is how well that material fit alongside their scrappier art-punk beginnings on this night.
For the early birds, the rain likely served as a rinse, a cleansing of suburban grime and a baptism for reclaiming your Yeah Yeah Yeahs cherry. From the look of the crowd, a high quotient of bros and hipster runoff, it was hard to gauge at which level of the band’s career each audience member had entered. Was it the version of the band that began as a prequel to the internet hype generation? I distinctly remember tossing their four-song self-released promo aside, assuming it was NYC poser trash, but was quickly converted, so I suppose that’s where I entered the fray. Was it the post-“Maps” era? Or was it during their most recent foray into electronic dance-punk? That mix might elicit disgust on paper (too little, too late?), but the singles so far have surpassed expectations. It’s simply added glitter and muscle to propel their skeletal melodies into a blinding ball of energy. I suspect most of the crowd fell somewhere between those last two scenarios, as the bulk appeared to be fringe American Apparel orphans bussed in from our surrounding rural counties.
I for one am surprised and pleased that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been able to extend their reach this far. Like My Morning Jacket, they’ve manned the trenches through the years to get where they are now, even with a whipsmart leader who was centerfold-ready from day one. The show in Columbus was moved from the indoor Newport to the outdoor LC Pavilion after the show originally sold out in a matter of hours. Subsequently it felt as if the outdoor show was nearing capacity as the band arrived on stage following another soupy shower. That venue change didn’t seem to phase the band, who knew that momentum was key in keeping the crowd enthralled. At first I thought one of It’s Blitz’s centerpiece ballads, “Runaway,” was an odd choice for an opener, but followed with a lofty “Cheated Hearts” and the sweetly visceral “Black Tongue,” there was a purpose and structure in placing old against new. For the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the set was a slow build to the euphoric high of the final third that began with the propulsive “Zero,” completely buzzing in synth waves and rumbling bass (provided by sideman Dave Pajo, of Slint/Tortiose/Zwan/Papa M fame) and ending with the trash-bop of “Date with the Night” (a standard from Fever to Tell).
In between it was more about the bewitching Karen O. than anything else. Watch Karen in her green-glowing boots. Watch Karen writhe in her apocalypse-kimono. Watch Karen swallow the mic. Watch Karen wear that odd bondage mask wrapped in pink-neon tubing during the climatic “Heads Will Roll.” The power of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs lies in Karen O’s hurricane of charisma, aloofness and quixotic behavior. Without her they would be just NYC poser trash. That’s not to take away from Nick Zinner and Brian Chase—both were in perfect form on this night, deftly balancing the powder-keg quality of their early material and the dancefloor love bombs of the present. An excellent example would be pairing “Miles Away” from their debut, a song they played in bright white stage lights, with “Soft Shock” from It’s Blitz, which entered cool and calm in blue smoke and red confetti. The contrast was never jarring and instead consistently impressive.
This was the first time the band had played Columbus, so the hyperbole and enthusiasm is granted. The majority of the fans in attendance were likely there only to worship in the Church of O, but left knowing that this is a band that has taken choice steps in their evolution to grow with their fame, channeling that into their music, and not letting allowing it to eat them alive.