There's something about Yeasayer's music that usually makes me want to belly dance or do cartwheels. A little late on the uptake, the first Yeasayer song I fell in love with was "Tightrope" from the 2009 compilation Dark Was the Night, an album comprised of original recordings from all-stars like the Dirty Projectors, David Byrne, Neko Case and Yo La Tengo and even then they stood out for me. It was a delight to then go back to discover Yeasayer's first album for myself, All Hour Cymbals, acclaimed for it's complex genre melding World Music, Afro-Punk, Tribal, transcendental, and Indie rock tracks that won over the blogosphere in 2008. It sounded like a fresh medley of unusual sounds from around the globe, combined with soulful harmonies, tantric instrumentals and catchy beats.
Then in February 2010, the Brooklyn band made up of Chris Keating, Anand Wilder and Ira Wolf Tuton, came out with a second album,Odd Blood, which offers a distinctly different sound from the first record: a super synthesized, layered, electro spun 80's dance pop that seemed more likely to inspire The Molly Ringwald than a Far East seduction dance. Many of the songs on the album are wildly catchy and nothing if not good for some lightheated fun, but some critics and fans were confused.
"We were playing the old songs for so many years...literally on tour for a year and a half. We wanted to try something new, wanted to write some different style songs (and) be able to play them live in a different way", Chris Keating said, confirming the shift was indeed an intentional, desired change of pace. "We try to have open ears and broad horizons when it comes to music", an approach that has paid off based on concert ticket sales.
The band is also helping to spread the good word for the new record with the creation of graphically intensive music videos for "Ambling Alp" and "O.N.E" that feature Terminator 2 style special effects, stallions, naked people running through deserts, and 80's scenster nightclub drama.
To keep the creative wheels turning on the music side, Keating these days is listening to eclectic artists like the Gang Gang Dance and DJ Rupture, and draws inspiration for progressive material from various mediums. "I'm most psyched on visual art," he says. "Seeing museums and things that people are working on. Sound collages. Anything you read that can translate into a song".
And from the stage set up at the show Saturday night at La Zona Rosa, it was clear that not everything was about the sounds. There were large flashing neon block structures as both a backdrop for the artists and instrument props. All five band members were clad in their usual hipster-chic getups (last time I saw them live Keating was rocking a pair of suspenders that I liked) leaving me to wonder what kind of thought goes into their wardrobe. "You're up there on stage and have to treat it like a stage." Keating told me. "I had my friend make me a custom tailor jumpsuit, fits like a suit but you can't tell it's one piece unless you're really looking. I can barely sit down in it".
And there it was. Two jumpsuits, three colorful tank tops, two fedoras and a sequin guitar strap between them, Yeasayer opened with Odd Blood's first track, "The Children" and lead into "Rome", a song that always reminds me of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy". The three band members, accompanied by two drummers, offered pulsing dance tracks, complete with harmonies from all on stage and Keating's trademark spastic gyrations. They moved onto hits from the old album like "Wait for Summer" and "2080" that I expected to elicit screams of excitement, yet the crowd remained surprisingly subdued. For a sold out show on a two-night stint in Austin, I had anticipated a lot more enthusiasm and unlike the most concert experiences in Austin, the mood seemed incongruent with the performance of supped-up, synthesized beats, tambourines, maracas, keyboards, bells, guitars and percussion happening on stage.
As the show went on, momentum picked up sporadically for singles like "O.N.E" but it did not maintain, and at points the band seemed noticeably discouraged. Twice during the concert one of the drummers lead the crowd in a "let's get loud" style pep-rally in effort to stir up some energy and at a point during the set Keating seemed visibly frustrated. "Can you see? Can you even hear?" he said, pointing to the back of the room, and shook his head at the lack of response. Whether that was due to production concerns or crowd indifference, the band seemed to be phoning it in a bit after that.
The set closed with Ambling Alp, which finally brought the house down and recaptured any attention that had drifted elsewhere. Irresistibly catchy and sing-a-long friendly, it was the missing piece many needed to go home happy.
Tonight Yeasayer played a second show in Austin at the same venue. Here's hoping any stale air from last night blew away and left an amped-up, jumping, gyrating, spiting, smiling, energized experience that left both band and audience wanting more.