Live Review: Yeasayer, Friction, Mercury Lounge, NYC 12/15/07

photo from Crackers United
review by Sheryl Witlen

2007 will be remembered as a year New York played both host and muse to a new crop of musical and artistic talents, who expressed with clarity and brilliance just what can happen when culture and human experience collide. Among the bands the city lays claim — including The National, Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem, Phosphorescent, and MGMT — is Yeasayer, who touched down during those hot lazy days of summer, heavy with humidity and foreboding.

The first beats “2080,” drowning in bass and overlapping with electronic clips and cymbals, introduced new audiences to the dramatics and tension of Chris Keating. Yeasayer is not just another splash in the pan indie rock band. One can listen loyally to their debut release, All Hour Cymbals, and barely reach the depths Keating has created with fellow members, Anand Wilder, Ira Wolf Tuton and Luke Fasano. But to understand all that this band has to offer, you must see them live. I say this with a passion that cannot be expressed in words, for the sound and life that this band owns as a unit in front of an audience is something that must be experienced and revered. So it was incredibly fitting that they helped close out the monthly Friction showcase for 2007.

The night began with opener Team Robespierre, who whipped the crowd into attention with frenzied, fierce songs that ticked with all the ammunition and spit of classic punk ballads without losing the traditional sounds of New York rock and roll. For those experiencing Yeasayer for the first time, there was an air of expectancy and surprise. The band began their set in the back of the audience and, slowly and deliberately, made their way towards the seemingly small Mercury Lounge stage. All at once, the foursome engaged at the front with a sudden burst of sound and dramatics. Posed like a preacher presiding over his last sermon, Keating sweated and swayed with each song he had stashed within his tightly clenched fists. During “Wintertime,” a track built around wealth and ambition, the audience was at once hushed and stunned. As a unit, Yeasayer looped their movements in time within the circles within their songs. Each studied in their respective roles as bassist, guitarist, singer and drummer, they weave their individual elements together with astonishing precision and dedication. The sold out crowd found themselves lost in their passion and rejoiced in their own release.

photo by Tod Seelie
Somehow lacing proclamations of despair and hopelessness of our eventual doomsday with love, beauty, graciousness and faith, Yeasayer’s songs seemed ageless hymns. Guitarist Anand Wilder, one of the most talented musicians of his particular craft, forcefully laid down overlapping lyrics to combat the prolific Keating, who, eyes closed and rocking, released a fretful energy as he croon their particular brand of poetry. Those of us in the audience could feel the physical pull, the rising and falling, and each turn of their songs. As if strung out on the performance itself, Keating barely acknowledged the audience as he unraveled each song, occasionally slamming the drum kit, jumping from speakers, clawing his way across the small platform, and perching over those gathered in the front row dripping with sweat and fervor.

This is not the norm for a band with only a debut album and a year or so of touring. One might even venture that this is not the norm for a band with a multitude of albums and years of touring under their belt. This is Yeasayer. It is daunting task even to transform into words the effect their music has when it comes in contact with a breathing, impressionable audience. To convince others to see Yeasayer live, even if they do not harbor the same feelings of tenderness for their songs or curiosity for their performance, the best you can do is put on their track “No Need to Worry,” turn it up as high as your speakers will allow, and watch as they tightly close their eyes and dissolve into the cymbals.

photo by Rebecca Smeyne
This particular Yeasayer set on this particular December night in New York was the perfect closing to a year dripping with decadent talent and crushing releases — no one could have closed it with such vigor and class as Yeasayer did. One can only hope that they continue to tend to their craft throughout 2008.

video courtesy of Mr. Mammoth

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One Comment

  1. anon
    Posted January 16, 2008 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t High Places play between Team Robespierre and Yeasayer?

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