May 6, 2003

Oh yeah! Karen O humps a mic stand and screams

Having released their debut album just the day before, New York's Yeah Yeah Yeahs rolled into the Metro last Wednesday with the following of an established act. The Yeahs, you see, have been hyped as the "best thing to happen to music since [insert noun here]" on both sides of the Atlantic, courtesy of NME and Rolling Stone. The aggrandizing of the band has had much more to do with their live performances than their recorded output, which has been spotty at best.

Prior to their new full-length, the Yeahs had released two EPs, the second of which was almost universally panned. Live, the band is best known for the antics of lead singer Karen O, who previously made waves among rock critics more for her flamboyant fashion than her voice. Yeah Yeah Yeahs had something to prove before the packed Metro crowd.

Before the Yeahs took the stage, The M's and The Greenhornes warmed up the crowd. The M's are a local band that plays AM-radio pop, replete with sugary vocal harmonies and more than a few "do-do-das" to boot. While decent in their own right, the M's seemed to just be filling stage time for an audience that came to hear more art-punk than '70s pop.

The second opener, Cincinnati's The Greenhornes, unfortunately suffered the same fate. The Greenhornes could be accused of aping the sound of The Mooney Suzuki and the look of The Strokes, two New York bands that are not known for being the most original of musicians. While being an extremely tight musical outfit, their brand of rhythm-and-blues-inflected rock didn't excite the crowd too much.

By the time Yeah Yeah Yeahs appeared, the crowd was ready to dance. The Yeahs, however, were not accommodating. Guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase took the stage first, playing the opening bars of the elegiac album closer "Modern Romance" while O waited offstage. When she finally made her way to the stage, everyone noticed her understated dress, a sleek black and red number that was far from the rags and fishnets one would expect. After catching the audience off-guard with the downtempo opener, the Yeahs burst right into the album's first track, "Rich." The opposite of "Modern Romance" in a number of ways, "Rich" jump-started the audience, which had been restrained up to that point.

Delivering all the hype, O proceeded to grind on the mic stand and spray the crowd with beer. From that point on, the Yeahs had the crowd under their control, mixing in tracks from their self-titled EP and their new full-length. Karen O continued to display the onstage energy she is known for; during "Art Star," she almost swallowed the mic while screaming into it, and at various other times you could find her standing on monitors or writhing on the ground in front of Zinner and Chase.

Songs like "No No No" and "Date with the Night" showed off the impressive musical chops of the Yeahs' instrumental section. While O receives most of the credit for their success thus far, it is Zinner and Chase who provide a background of extraordinarily danceable beats and punk-influenced guitar for O to sing/shout/scream over. It became very apparent that in concert, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are much more than the sum of their parts.

The set closer, "Miles Away," was a highlight of the show and left the audience wanting more. The band indulged the audience, returning to the stage shortly after for a two-song encore. "Our Time," the Yeahs' signature song off of their self-titled EP, was far better live than on record, proving once again that this band is for real.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs came to Chicago with chips on their respective shoulders. Were they the beneficiaries of over-enthusiastic rock critics hailing any band from New York as the "next big thing?" Or were they deserving of the praise they had received? For the crowd at the Metro, it was clear that Yeah Yeah Yeahs had deserved all the credit for their exhilarating live performances.