Yeah Yeah Yeahs
At Kool Haus
in Toronto on Monday
The Glamour. The Debauchery. The Music. Words on a leaflet handed out before the show, little slips of coloured paper that promoted a photo book on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The glamour, the debauchery, the music -- that's the formula, the ticket for the night.
If nothing else, the flyer proved that the sell-out crowd was at the proper venue. Saturday it was Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at the Opera House; tonight it was the art-punk Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Kool Haus. You needn't be an oaf to confuse your buzzy Brooklyn-based Yeah-bands these days.
But here's Karen O on stage, and there is no mistaking this one. A squeal is heard among the young horde, "Oh my god, I can see her!" Garsh, was that me? Was I thinking out loud again? Phew, thank goodness, it was an excitable cherub standing nearby.
Karen Orzolek, known as Karen O, creates reaction. She swiped her hair style from Dorothy Hamill, and her eyes are fantastically decorated. Dressed in a glammy Peter Pan outfit, she's a lanky semi-Asian she looks like a decadent Olive Oyl, and it's not true that her legs go all the way up to her neck. (She wouldn't be able to breathe that way, but it would be fun watching her try.) She's eye candy, sure thing -- strutting, posing, hopping, pacing artistically. At one point, during the first number Gold Lion, O closes her eyes, arches her back, stretches her arms high. The shimmering Lion, with an acoustic-strummed first verse that gradually gives way to a zombie-movie vibe, is the first track off the band's new Show Your Bones, the awaited successor to 2003's debut long-player Fever to Tell.
"Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ah-ah," O pants and sings simultaneously. It's quite effective.
During an 18-tune performance that includes a noisy seven-song encore, virtually all of Bones is rolled out. There was Honeybear (angular new wave coupled with a stomping Alex Lifeson riff), with a defiant opening line ("Turn yourself around, you weren't invited") that loses some of its snark when heard in O's Little Rascals-Alfalfa voice.
On Black Tongue, O's caterwauled excitement is a sign of a woman either in distress or something very much nicer. On the hyper, rocking and seemingly Fats Domino-inspired Mysteries, the singer wraps her neck with a white towel, Elvis-style. In fact, on different occasions she adopts the King's poses and mannerisms, shaking and pointing her tasseled glove hand.
Most of the material is high energy, paced by the potent on-the-mark drumming of Brian Chase, a respectful chap who had the look of the group's designated driver. Underfed guitarist Nick Zinner, a fan of Sonic Youth and Black Sabbath perhaps, dabbles in dangerous, huge riffs and further noise exploring. His synth/guitar solos sound like notes from a theremin on steroids.
O does tone down her mewl, sounding pleasant on a few tender tunes, including the hit Maps from Fever to Tell for the first encore, the lullaby Dudley, and the soft-loud Warrior, with O singing about her tough-girl charisma.
Yeah, O has that fearsome allure (much the same as Courtney Love, though with less chance of contracting disease).
She's got a great little band together, but make no mistake -- O's the glam attraction.