One of the best things
about the Chicago rock scene is that fans here generally remain dubious
about music-world hype--especially when it's generated by the New York
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the widely hailed garage/art-punk trio, arrived at a
packed Metro Wednesday night surfing on a tidal wave of hyperbole, the most
ballyhooed band out of Manhattan since fellow New Wave revivalists the
Chicago fans were certainly enthusiastic, but they were also wary: If
these critical darlings couldn't deliver the goods, it's likely that their
15 minutes of fame would have been over well before their 12-song set.
So how did the flavor of the moment fare? Despite the high-energy antics
of lauded frontwoman Karen O and the incredible walls of sound generated by
guitarist Nick Zinner, Yeah Yeah Yeahs didn't blow anybody's mind. But they
did confirm that they're well worth rock fans' attention, even if they're
not quite the Second Coming.
The group is touring in support of its first full album, "Fever to Tell,"
which follows the release of two EPs, the first a stunning debut, the second
more or less filler. But the band's strengths aren't its songs (none of
which stand out like singles by the Strokes or the White Stripes) but its
sound (a skillfully constructed melange of angular New Wave rhythms,
scorching noise guitar solos and swirling ambient textures a la England's
early '90s "shoegazer bands) and its stage presence.
"Sex on a stick," New York boosters have called Oberlin College alum
Karen O, but hers is a very New York sort of sex appeal: With her Chrissie
Hynde bangs and Patti Smith tomboy persona, she remained rather androgynous,
despite her artfully torn purple stockings, her black minidress, her
suggestive straddling of the microphone stand and her continual humping of
the sound monitors.
A nonstop blur of erotic motion, the singer definitely offered something
to look at. But on close examination, this was a necessary distraction to
mask the facts that she doesn't have a lot to say (her lyrics tend toward
shrieks and guttural moans or ponderous-sounding declarations such as "There
is no modern romance!") and she says it with a more or less unremarkable
voice that evokes a screechier, far more limited PJ Harvey.
The real star of the band is Zinner, the art-damaged, black-clad,
strangely coiffed sonic maestro who used three amplifiers and a handful of
effects pedals to generate a small orchestra's worth of fascinating guitar
sounds, proving himself one of the most inventive players since Kevin
Shields of My Bloody Valentine (with whom Yeah Yeah Yeahs share a producer,
Whether the group develops into an act worthy of the praise it's received
depends on its being able to write a song we can actually remember three
minutes after it's performed. In the meantime, it is at least an
entertaining shot of adrenaline.
Opening for Yeah Yeah Yeahs were two less ambitious (and much less hyped)
In stark contrast to Karen O's flailing, the four members of Cincinnati's
Greenhornes barely breathed onstage as they churned out a raw, bluesy brand
of fuzz-drenched noise. The music was fine, but someone should have checked
to see if any of those boys besides the drummer had a pulse.
Kicking off the night were Chicago's M's, who recalled a rougher, more
ragged Frisbie as they added three-part harmonies and a Kinks-inspired
bounce to their particular style of three-chord snarl. The group performs
again on May 29 with Detroit's Fags at the Double Door, and garage-rock fans
shouldn't miss it.