It’s been 10 years since New York City trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs played in Melbourne as proclaimed by vocalist and front person Karen O and the near capacity crowd assembled at Margaret Court Arena on this chilly winter’s night in Melbourne were eager to welcome them back with open arms and hearts. Together with guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase and augmented by touring allrounder Imaad Wasif on bass, keys and acoustic, Karen O made a spectacular entrance to the stage, emerging from the wings almost like a butterfly emancipating itself from a cocoon. We have all been in the cocoon during the last couple of years as the global pandemic put the brakes on live music as we knew it. Finally now that the fog has begun to lift, tours that were postponed during those dark years are coming to fruition. As we scroll through inboxes searching for tickets, hoping they haven’t been inadvertently sent to the recycle bin, fervour and joy in live music is renewed. Yeah Yeah Yeahs brought that fervour to fever pitch Thursday night and then some.
In addition to bringing us a setlist spanning their five albums to date, Yeah Yeah Yeahs brought electropop trio Automatic from Los Angeles to open for them. While I admit when I saw the name on the running sheet I immediately had a pang of excitement thinking that the local ‘90s rock pop outfit had reformed but was pleasantly surprised to discover the former. Their sound was reminiscent of Kraftwerk at times, minimalist yet sophisticated in the songs’ layered constructions, with standouts from the set being Strange Conversations from their 2019 debut LP Signal, with its colourful robotic animation accompanying the beats on the huge backdrop and the moody Turn Away from their 2022 album Excess. They deserved a more settled and attentive audience, such is the curse of the opening act, but they played a solid, musically innovative set of songs.
Opening with the lead track from 2022’s Cool it Down album, Spitting Off the Edge of the World saw Karen O strut her stuff in full voice, resplendent in a sequined jumpsuit complete with bejewelled cape, intricately beaded motifs and elbow length, tassled green gloves. This band was off and running. “Anyone here lost in 2003?” Karen O asked the crowd before proclaiming “This one’s for you then!” and launching into Art Star from their first self titled EP. Zero from 2009’s It’s Blitz! was accompanied by its now familiar giant eyeballs launching from the stage and bobbing atop hundreds of heads in the crowd before being expertly wrangled back by the crew in time for the next song. A technical hitch caused a false start with Wolf – Karen blamed it on jet lag – followed by a concerned Karen calling a halt to the whole shebang as a punter was in some kind of distress needed medical attention. It was clearly not what anyone expected – kind of like the stretcher rule in a tense football match – where all momentum is abruptly lost as the injured party is taken care of. It was heart warming to see the band vigilantly looking out for their people with a clearly concerned Karen O moving to the edge of the stage to offer assistance. After thanking the crowd for being so patient and caring, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs train was instantly back on the rails.
The song that everyone was waiting for, the flawless Maps, was prefaced by many dedications, most notably guitarist Nick Zinner’s dad “who came all the way to Australia to see his son play in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs!”. The cutting guitar and pounding drums set it up perfectly as the final dedication was announced as being to all the lovers in Melbourne tonight. Interestingly enough, on the surface this was an older crowd, the tell-tale signs being the last minute arrivals and the encore getaways to beat the traffic or get the less crowded train home, but there were quite a few next gen YYY fans scattered throughout too. Ending the set with the modern classic Heads Will Roll, the crowd demanded more to which the band of course obliged. Before calling it a night we were treated to a full punk onslaught of Y Control and Date With the Night from Fever to Tell.
I think sophisticated was the word of the night for this NYC trio plus one. Sophistication in the evolution of the music as the band has grown musically and gone from strength to strength while still maintaining their punk edge and performance art qualities. The new material weaved in and out of the set seamlessly, a feat that is not always easy to pull off, and the external glitter and glam allowed the inner punk to break through.