Concert Reviews

Yeasayer takes everyone higher at the Bluebird

Yeasayer | Sleigh Bells
04.24.10 | The Bluebird Theatre

If anyone is getting tired of Brooklyn, it didn't show Saturday -- a pair of the hippest bands from the hippest borough in the world packed the hell out of the Bluebird. We're talking sweaty backs leaving wet prints on strangers' chests, and everyone smiling and feeling frisky because Yeasayer has some knee-buckling jams.

One of these is main-set closer "Ambling Alp," which prominently features this line over and over: "You must/Stick up for yourself, son/Never mind what anybody else done." That's some real chin-up kid bullshit in print; it's much better in the song, where it's backed by tribal drums and joyful bleets and thunderous claps. Live, it's a perfect mantra, a totally galvanizing force in a big room lit by technicolor translucent panels and full of believers.

Two hours before Yeasayer was melting everyone with "Ambling Alp," Sleigh Bells was making sure all the early comers will be purchasing its debut LP, Treats, which comes out on May 11 on M.I.A.'s imprint.

Sleigh Bells is comprised of producer/guitarist/perpetual hoodie-wearer Derek Miller and singer/massive thrasher Alexis Krauss. Right now, they're riding a head-turner of a show at last year's CMJ and one amazing single, "Crown on the Ground," to buzz-band glory. Who knows whether the full length will reveal a lasting talent or a lucky flare.

What we can deduce, based on Saturday's show, is that this band is a live force. Krauss's previous day job was as a public school teacher in Brooklyn, and we're confident she was popular among her male students. Her stage presence is alarmingly unhinged -- throwing her body around the stage more than dancing, climbing amps, leaning into the crowd.

It's no coincidence that Sleigh Bells caught the eye of M.I.A. Their songs are kindred spirits -- crazy-energy alarm bells. If anything, Krauss and Miller's music is rougher than M.I.A.'s, heavier and less schizophrenic, massive beats and furious guitar. And Krauss is more than a figurehead. She's got a more-than-serviceable voice, strong enough to compete with all that noise and smooth enough to make it all highly listenable. There's the occasional scream (pictured above) but that pretty much comes with the territory.

Sleigh Bells, just starting, is a hungry band clearly out to seize this slot opening for Yeasayer and do whatever it takes to win fans in each city. Yeasayer was in their shoes not so long ago. The band's debut full-length, All Hour Cymbals, earned it a better-than modest following, and armed with the album's insanely good singles, the group managed to avoid being swallowed in expectation like so many of their quirky borough-mates thrust into the blog-spotlight, such as it is, too soon.

So the act weathered the storm and brought us Odd Blood, its not-as-good follow up that nevertheless doubled or tripled its fanbase. And now Yeasayer is royalty in the not-insignificant world of id-centric indie rock -- meaning this stuff is meant to be felt and not processed mentally.

It is not until you see Yeasayer live that you realize how psychedelic this stuff is. Sure, the songs are there for your evaluation, but you miss the aforementioned lighting scheme and the jumpsuits sported by the bands two main vocalists. And as far as fashion goes, jumpsuits are a step into Normalsville for these guys, who were last seen touring in support of All Hour Cymbals wearing (presumably fake) animal pelts and the like.

With a crowd this feverish, the band onstage can do no wrong, and even the trippier songs, interludes between towering and weird singles, went over just fine. Some girl brought a light-up tambourine, which frontman Chris Keating called "Some Avatar shit." If you say so.

In addition to the setlist you see below, the band rewarded the adulation of the crowd with a two song encore, the back half of which was "Sunrise." This would be one of those epic singles with a shout-along hook and a blinding, tumbling rhythm. And the packed house was screaming, euphoric, beyond caring about who has hype and what counts as cool.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I've been on the Yeasayer bandwagon since just before All Hour Cymbals. Brooklyn forces some inexcusable garbage on the asking-for-it hype machine readers like myself, but these bands are both gifts. Random Detail: Yeasayer played a DJ set at the Larimer Lounge after the show at the Bluebird. I didn't go, but if anyone did: Let us know how it went in the comments. By The Way: The entire band, but Keating in particular, has newly adopted a pretty obnoxious swagger that is also totally justified. Oh to be a rock star.

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Kiernan Maletsky is Westword's music editor. His writing has appeared in alt-weeklies around the country as well as Miley Cyrus's mom's Twitter feed.
Contact: Kiernan Maletsky