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Yeah Yeah Yeahs at First Avenue, 6/24/13

Yeah Yeah Yeahs at First Avenue, 6/24/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
With Maximum Hedrum
First Avenue, Minneapolis
June 24, 2013

Karen O is an unbridled indie-rock dynamo. And during Yeah Yeah Yeahs' explosive 80-minute set at a very sold-out First Avenue on Monday night, Karen led the packed club through her twisted, blistering brand of calisthenics. She and the band gave the passionate crowd a forceful look back at their untamed musical roots, as well as the mercurial direction they're heading in the future.

Confetti repeatedly rained down on the smiling faces of the crowd, who turned the floor of the Mainroom into a roiling mass of dancing as everyone did their best to keep up with Karen and her boundless energy.

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Slideshow: Yeah Yeah Yeahs at First Avenue, 6/24/13


The set started with the ominous new song "Under the Earth," with drummer Brian Chase providing the track's restless rhythm while Karen's vocals had a heavy dub effect on them. "Thank you very much, Minne!" proclaimed Karen excitedly, before she blew a stream of water into the air as guitarist Nick Zinner kicked in the gritty guitar riffs of "Black Tongue" and the party was officially on. Karen danced about wildly in her yellow rhinestone suit jacket, Michael Jackson tee, and shorts combo, releasing the first of many confetti bombs that augmented the festive spirit of the 10-year-old track.

The start of the set was a tempestuous mix of both brand new songs and really old numbers, as they followed a guitar-fueled take on "Slave" with an abrasive and experimental run-through of "Art Star," which found Karen donning a massive sparkling wig and sticking the microphone's head entirely into her mouth while she unleashed her primal banshee-like wail. "This one goes out to you, Minneapolis! First Ave!" Karen screamed as an intro to "Art Star," and indeed it seemed like the band was truly happy to be back playing one of their favorite rooms on the road (having been toured around the city earlier in the day by Har Mar Superstar, who brought them to lunch at Quang followed by some thrift-store shopping).

Yeah Yeah Yeahs at First Avenue, 6/24/13
Yeah Yeah Yeahs at First Avenue, 6/24/13
Photos By Tony Nelson

The lethal one-two punch of the crunchy "Down Boy" and the towering majesty of "Heads Will Roll" really set the place off, with Karen serving as a maniacal subversive cheerleader, getting the crowd to jump in time with her to the tracks' infectious, irresistible rhythms. "Monday Night, Minneap!" shouted Karen as the band caught their breath for a moment, before she and Chase led the crowd through an impromptu "We Will Rock You" chant that eventually morphed into the familiar strains of "Gold Lion," which again brought a confetti explosion.

Karen, Nick, and mulit-instrumentalist David Pajo (who has been touring with the band since 2009) all retreated to keyboards to add their own haunting texture to the hushed, eerie mood of the simmering "Subway," which again showed their longtime fans that even though they have toned down their once-feral art rock, they haven't stopped experimenting. Karen left the stage briefly for an outfit change, with Zinner taking advantage of the opportunity to satisfy his photographic cravings by snapping plenty of pics of the animated audience.

 

Karen returned to the stage wearing her familiar leather jacket, and proclaimed, "It's good to be back in Minneapolis! We love Minneapolis, man!" And based on this triumphant performance alone, you knew she was telling the truth. The leather jacket should have been a dead giveaway that "Zero" was soon to follow, and indeed the track soared as the club once again turned in a pogoing mass of flailing bodies. Karen and Brian both held their hands aloft victoriously as they teased out the tension of the track before unleashing the beat as the song kicked in jubilantly.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs at First Avenue, 6/24/13
Yeah Yeah Yeahs at First Avenue, 6/24/13
Photos By Tony Nelson

An acoustic-laden "Turn Into" gave us all another chance to recharge a bit, with Karen bowing to Nick as he added his electric guitar squall to the song's slowly building poignancy. But it was a crushing take on "Despair" that really proved to be a showstopper, as the tragic, mournful number gradually swelled into a unifying outsider anthem that swept everyone up. It was a stunning moment. The band built on that strong sentiment with the textured, hymn-like splendor of "Sacrilege," with the band taking us all to church for a moment as we clapped along to the pre-recorded choir's saintly vocals.

Karen seemed to be remixing herself at the start of "Cheated Hearts," almost beatboxing her vocals for a minute before launching into her recognizable pained vocals. She tried to take her jacket off dramatically to coincide with her "taking it off" lyrics, but playfully got her arm stuck in the sleeve and missed her vocal cue. But the jacket eventually came off, and the song erupted. Karen also brought the microphone through the front row, letting the crowd sing along with her while only strengthening the connection she had already made with them. And, with one last fountain-like spew of water, the band kicked in the rowdy chorus one last time and were off to a rousing ovation.

 

Zinner and Chase took to the stage alone for the encore, with Nick looping the well-known guitar riffs of "Maps." But Karen, who was now dressed in a red, white, and blue tinsel cape, had other ideas, and brought out her good friend Har Mar to sing to Pajo, who was celebrating his birthday at midnight. "You know this song -- it's a temporary hit called 'Happy Birthday,'" joked Har Mar, before he led the crowd through a Marilyn Monroe-like rendition of the festive singalong (something he did for Karen at the band's now legendary 2003 First Ave show). After that joyous diversion, Karen got back to business quickly, "All right -- time for a summer love song. I'd like to dedicate this song to all of you summer lovers here in Minneapolis and First Avenue tonight." And an impassioned, keyboard-laden take on "Maps" followed elegantly, with the crowd singing the tender refrain with Karen, lost in the beauty of the moment.

But this night had to end with a bolt of electricity, and the band complied with a raucous take on "Date With the Night" which gave the crowd one last chance to lose their collective shit. The band froze in place dramatically for a few minutes, letting the tension in the club build as well as the ovation of the crowd, before they kicked in the filthy riff once again and the fiery song brought the storming set home, but not before Karen put the microphone down her shorts, bringing it out through the zipper like a total badass. "We're the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and we love you Minneapolis! Good night," Karen said as she and the band left the stage to a well-earned ovation, with the crowd's deafening applause proving that this musical love affair was certainly felt from both sides.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs at First Avenue, 6/24/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I haven't missed an area performance from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and don't ever really intend to. They are truly a can't-miss live act.

The Crowd: Packed with plenty of Karen O disciples who were clearly ready to let loose at the show.

Overheard in the Crowd: "James Brown and Karen O are the only musicians who can really get away with wearing a cape onstage."

Random Notebook Dump: Opening act Maximum Hedrum is an experimental musical collaboration between DJ Sam Spiegel, Sepultura's Derrick Green, and Harold Faltermeyer (of "Axel F" fame). It was about as weird and sonically unpredictable as you can imagine. Their matching checkered suits were certainly a nice touch, though.

Setlist:

Under The Earth

Black Tongue

Slave

Art Star

Down Boy

Heads Will Roll

Gold Lion

Subway

Zero

Turn Into

Despair

Sacrilege

Cheated Hearts

Maps (Encore)

Date With the Night (Encore)


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