Illuminated by the glowing silhouettes that joined them onstage–which ranged from ghoulishly unnerving and strangely ethereal, as searing white lights poured out of their eyes and mouths–the psychedelic dynamo that is Yeasayer made their return to the Fonda Theatre late Wednesday night. As a particularly distracting cutout of Mark Twain glared at me from the back of the stage (the pineapple baby cutout that sat in front of lead singer Chris Keating’s keyboards was much more my speed), the Brooklyn rockers peddled out a satisfying replay of hits, and there are tons, from their latest release Amen & Goodbye. From Yeasayer’s off-kilter grooves to its unfiltered rock jammers, Keating, Anand Wilder, and Ira Tuton tore through every song like three frantic pistons firing at the speed of light. Surrounded by the wild fantasia of their onstage “guests,” Yeasayer drove their inane, rabble-rousing beats deep into the crowd, opening with the otherworldly chimes of “Half Asleep” and treating fans early on to Wilder and Tuton’s dreamy falsetto croons. While those intricate surges of jangling synths and exotic strums are confined to an almost acoustic atmosphere–live, the song’s booming bass percussiveness thundered jarringly as layered, helium vocalizations swelled alongside sublime string vibratos.
The outcome was the same for a number of Amen & Goodbye more minimalist orchestrations, as Keating’s gesticulations and dreamy howls pulsated in the erratic depths of songs like “Divine Simulacrum” and “Uma.” Torn between the hallowed awe of the blissful instrumentals in “Gerson’s Whistle,” and the 80’s bombast of dance-igniting tracks like “Silly Me,” the crowd relied on Keating’s cues (ultimately feeding off the electrified sweat that shook from his moppy curls) in deciding whether to flail wildly to dizzying pop hooks, or to simply stand awash in its afterglow. But one of the night’s many highlights belongs to Anand’s emotionally crushing play of, arguably one of the most accomplished indie songs of the year, “Cold Night.” Propelling into the dauntingly depressed narrative, his tattered yearnings and desperate inquisitions caressed lightly by Keating’s soft murmurs, Anand choked out every drop of emotionality out of the song’s driving guitar medley.
But the night was not solely a tribute to Amen & Goodbye‘s relative ingenuity, and Yeasayer entreated fans to a flurry of early hits that thoughtfully reminded fans (including me) the insane lengths at which they could sonically enlarge their sound. Pulling heavily from Odd Blood, the first of which was the anthemic and relentlessly loud “Madder Red,” Keating and Anand maneuvered through those eruptions of bass and triumphant vocal harmonies with such goose-bump inducing ease that it seemed almost criminal. The delightfully jumpy rolls of drums and vibrating drum machines of both “Ambling Alp” and “O.N.E.” followed close behind–their spaciously frenetic beats would be a challenge for a lesser band (except maybe Animal Collective), but again Yeasayer proved itself ridiculously apt in translating its head-warping weirdness into lively infusions of danceable acts of hypnotism.
Although they returned to the stage for a brief encore, Yeasayer gave their final hurrah in the form of “I Am Chemistry,” and as Keating led us by the hand through the song’s opening bubbling bass remedies and choral wails, it was hard not to lose yourself in the seamless transitions between the song’s complex movements. As warbling electronica overtook Keating’s sensual cries (“She only needs my help, pleasuring herself beneath the rue leaves”), the singer turned to his keyboard and sent wave after lush synthetic wave into the crowd–and just as fans were drowning in the resounding hum, a button was pushed, and we were sent soaring thirty-thousand leagues from the depths to the tune of the trio’s euphoric harmonies (“My momma told me not to fool with oleander…”). With one last crescendo of orchestral-synths, Yeasayer roared the chemical assertions of the chorus to the crowd, and the crowd echoed them back.
Beyond the underrated pretext of originality and unapologetic experimentalism of Yeasayer’s creative engines, there is also an often overlooked but critical devotion to their live shows. If there was ever a time to catch the whacky trio, it would be on this tour as they sit in the veritable sweet spot of Amen & Goodybe‘s unparalleled artistry–you really just can’t say you’ve seen Yeasayer until you’ve seen them perform with Twain and pineapple baby.
Words & Photos: Steven Ward