HOBOKEN, New Jersey — "This is a practice run," Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O shouted above the din at venerable indie-rock hotspot Maxwell's on Thursday night. "So we reserve the right to f--- up."
It's not like the packed-to-the-rafters crowd would've cared if they did, but it's always smart to hedge your bets when your band is playing its first show in more than 14 months, and that show marks the debut of a brand-new album. And so O — eyes wide and wild through a band of black raccoon makeup — let the audience know that yes, the YYYs were still shaking the rust off, and yes, there were probably going to be a few rough patches, but it would all be OK because, dudes, you get to hear it all first!
The funny thing is, it wasn't the new stuff that gave the band fits, but rather its time-tested hit. Songs from the upcoming Show Your Bones (see "Are The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Anxious About Bones? No No No") came off without a hitch. From the set-opening "Turn Into" to the current single "Gold Lion," the Yeahs appeared locked in and confident; O pirouetting around Maxwell's tiny stage, guitarist Nick Zinner pulling zig-zagging solos out of his axe, drummer Brian Chase bashing indiscriminately (albeit with the aid of a backing track). The only real screw-up came during an acoustic version of their breakout single "Maps," as O flubbed a line and was reduced to a spasm of giggles.
But again, no one seemed to mind. And even when O announced that "90 percent of the stuff you hear tonight is new," the assembled masses cheered loudly, sending waves of beer and spit skyward in the process. Among those ducking from the projectiles were one-third of the Blues Explosion (drummer Russell Simins), one-sixth of ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (frontman Conrad Keely) and, rather inexplicably, Johnny Knoxville (in a tie, nonetheless!).
Of course, that enthusiasm probably had less to do with what the YYYs were playing as it had to do with where they were playing it. Maxwell's is roughly the size of your parents' living room, a dingy, smoky, L-shaped space "decorated" with sprinkler heads, vents and concrete pillars. There is no VIP area, nor much of a backstage. And as such, it was the perfect place to catch the Yeahs, who at their core are a skuzzy, smelly, noise-rock trio.
And despite their claims that much of Bones is made up of "campfire" songs, a large portion of the material unveiled on Thursday night seemed to play on those noise-rock roots. "Honey Bear" stomped and wailed like some of the YYYs' earliest recordings (their rock power so great that O was forced to put a milk crate on her head for protection), and the guitar/drums interplay of "Cheated Hearts" swung like a brontosaurus tail.
After a scattershot hour onstage, the Yeahs exited through the crowd (high comedy indeed to see an audience of hipsters parted by flashlight-wielding bouncers), only to appear a few minutes later for what was supposed to be a triumphant encore, but devolved into a feedback-drenched version of "Tick" (from 2003's Fever to Tell). And like everything else they did on Thursday, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were a bit rusty, a bit sloppy.
And no one seemed to mind at all.
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