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Review: Yeasayer Gig at Heaven Club

Published 26 February 2010

The most revealing description of Yeasayer I’ve found comes from the band themselves. According to their MySpace page, they are, “Enya with bounce”…umm. Obviously this is meant to be ironic but that statement’s lack of wit or relevance to their actual music betrays a preoccupation with appearing cool and clever as opposed to being decent musicians.

Their recent gig at the Heaven club in London validated this pretty quickly. Yeasayer is a band based from Brooklyn in New York, and came across the pond to be part of Shockwaves NME’s series of awards shows for 2010. Having released their debut album in 2007, they went on to tour with the likes of MGMT in 2008, and are recognized as one of the indie bands bringing new experimental sounds to the rock scene.

Yeasayer’s sound is a portmanteau of the latest trendy influences. 80’s synths combined with MOR rock designed to get you moving but without the energy or originality that bands like MGMT have to pull it off. On record that’s just dandy but unfortunately musical irony doesn’t translate very well live, and the crowd for the most part stood statue-like, reluctantly nodding their heads once in a while to the beat.

The sound system at the venue (Heaven) did not help as it reduced most of the music to throbbing bass and drums and buried a lot of the synths, which unfortunately are a massive part of Yeasayer’s sound. The unusual dynamics of the songs also made any kind of dancing pretty unlikely, as they tended to lurch forward or grind on awkwardly instead of building in intensity. The set list though included a good mix from both their albums but only really picked up some steam at the end when they played more up-tempo songs like “O.N.E.” and “Ambling Alp”.

One thing that made Yeasayer particularly frustrating was the underused talent of singer/guitarist Anand Wilder and drummer Jason Trammell. Songs like “Wait for Wintertime” and “Worms” where the two play a more prominent role stood out as being superior to the more synth based sounds that clogged up the middle of the set. The best moments came exclusively from those two, Trammell being particularly impressive, driving every song with a great beat and more energy than the rest of the band combined. The others had passable skill but did not really add much to the sound. One just hit buttons on a synthesizer/programmer, which you could get a monkey or computer to do and singer Chris Keating gave up entirely during some songs and let Wilder take lead vocal duties. This normally wouldn’t bug me but in this case it just showed how redundant Keating was; Wilder was easily the better singer. Yeasayer are also pretty lacking in the showmanship department. Except from Trammell, there was precious little energy on stage with the band mainly gyrating unconvincingly rather than putting any passion into it.

Despite their live shortcomings, Yeasayer are very good on record; the texture and mood of their songs works better with a studio handling the various electronic elements they pack into their music. They have a good reputation as a live band so I may have caught them on an off day but I really would not recommend seeing them live, their songs don’t lend themselves to any kind of active participation. All in all there was nothing particularly bad about them but nothing particularly great either.

If you can imagine The Killers minus the ambition, MGMT minus the tunefulness and The Rapture without the danceability then you’d have something resembling Yeasayer.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Gig Date: Tuesday 23rd February, 2010
Gig Venue: Heaven Club, 9 The Arches Villiers St, London WC2N 6NG
Latest Album: Odd Blood, released on the 8th February 2010 and out now for sale at HMV or Amazon.co.uk.

Article written by Aneil Fatania.
Photos from Flickr user littlepants.