The Yeah Yeah Yeahs kicked off their only appearance at SXSW 2013 with a complete mastery of the Stubbs BBQ stage. Led by Karen O., whose costume and demeanor suggested a mix of Lady Gaga and Yoko Ono, the band owned Austin for at least an hour on Wednesday evening, the second day of SXSW music portion of the festival.
The band opened with “Mosquito,” the title track from the band’s forthcoming album, and a shrieking number full of bloodsucking threats that capitalized on O’s abundance of energy. From there, the set shuffled between fan-favorites and tracks from the soon-to-be-released Mosquito, including the propulsive and shuffling “Under the Earth.”
After that, it was a tour through the back catalog with “Art Star,” which led to the thumping drums of the 2006 single “Gold Lion.” Karen O., wearing a dazzling banana-yellow pantsuit, a silver sequin top and a sparkling hat, was all stage moves and “Yeah, Austin!” calls to the crowd as she introduced the song.
That crowd seemingly couldn’t get enough of her rock moves; she followed the song with a quick off-stage costume changes, replacing her yellow blazer with a leather jacket, and trading in the rolling-around she’d done earlier for a giddy, bouncing “Zero,” the leadoff track from 2009’s It’s Blitz! led into another new song — and this time, the audience and the stage grew quiet, as O. sauntered over to guitarist Nick Zimmer and sang the hushed, breathy “Subway” off of Mosquito.
It takes a confident performer to know when to sandwich an unfamiliar song that requires patient, attentive listening in between old favorites, and O. is very much that sort of performer. The lovely “Subway” led to the reward of what’s still the band’s highest charting single, the 2003 anthem “Maps.” O. introduced the song by declaring that she was in love, and that the song — with its “They don’t love you like I love you” chorus — was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs version of a love song. It’s their fans’ idea of a love song, too, leading to a singalong among the capacity audience.
The band debuted one other new song, their first-ever live performance of the Mosquito rocker “Sacrilege,” before closing out the set with a trio of older songs, ending on the 2009 single “Heads Will Roll.” The SXSW set was very much an indication of where the band is at as it prepares for the April release of its fourth album and the eventual tour to follow. They’re a band with a wide array of diverse new material that veers from the art-rock to the hushed intensity, but who are also unafraid to dig deep into their impressive back catalog. If that’s what we can expect from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in 2013, there’ll be plenty more to appreciate.