Saturday, June 23, 2012

Yeasayer's rhythms turn Cannery into propulsive indie dance party

Yeasayer are a curious little band. They seemed to have found their niche on their debut album, All Hour Cymbals, but couldn't be arsed to stick with the sound. Instead, they opted to introduce a heavy electronic layer into the fold for 2010's Odd Blood. That album produced its fair share of charming tunes, but also struck out on more than a few numbers. Their tour for the band's third album, the yet-to-be-released Fragrant World, made a stop at Nashville's Cannery Ballroom Friday night, and served notice that the experimental Brooklyn outfit intend to continue blazing forth on the path established on Odd Blood.

Chris Keating: point man for Yeasayer's devious style.
Over the course of an hour and a half, Cannery was transformed into a electro/indie pop dance party. It was easy to feel like you were in another world. The set kicked off with "Fragrant World," which sported bass so loud and warbly I thought I had somehow walked into a Rusko concert.

Lead vocalist Chris Keating thrilled the crowd with his impassioned late 80s pop crooning. And hey look, it's Jesus on guitar. Bushy bearded guitarist Anand Wilder, who bears a strong resemblance to the world's most famous prophet, added the final element to the song with a shimmering middle eastern inspired lead. It fit in perfectly with the band's demented techno backdrop.

Meanwhile, a dizzying and dazzling array of lights and laser beams is lighting up the whole dance floor. People are talking about crowd surfing. And Yeasayer is busy ripping into "Henrietta," Fragrant World's lead single. Keating's passionate cries to the titular character split the air as the beautiful chaos unfolds.

Naturally, the setlist was pretty Fragrant World heavy. The band unveiled 10 of the album's 11 tracks, omitting only closer "Glass of the Microscope." From what I could pick up on, the album is very bass heavy and pushes the digitized nature of the band's music to new levels. The song structures seem less obviously pop based and tend to focus more on the backing instrumentation. And while it's a rare opportunity to be able to preview an album like this, there are clear reasons why most bands release the album first and then tour.

When nearly 90 percent of your setlist is composed of tracks that aren't yet officially released, your audience has no time to acquaint themselves with the material and develop a bond with it. The Odd Blood songs drew far larger audience response than anything else. "O.N.E." and "Ambling Alp" were massive singalongs for everyone in attendance, and by the time they got to "Madder Red" the crowd surfing was in full force. The vocal interplay between Keating and Wilder near the end of "O.N.E." is the stuff of legends.

As if recognizing that the second half of Odd Blood was less than stellar, the band skipped over it entirely. But there are still some good songs the guys missed; "I Remember" and "Love Me Girl" would have made nice additions. But the most glaring omission was the fact that no songs were preformed from All Hour Cymbals, regarded by many as the band's best album. "2080" was sorely missed. That song was so well tailored for live settings that the band preformed it in a French apartment building as a Take Away Show for La Blogotheque in 2008.

However, it was clear this night was rightfully about Fragrant World, and performance wise it's hard to find fault. The passion and intensity was there, as Yeasyaer presented a very cutting edge vibe. You might expect to see this type of act in Brooklyn or Chicago or some big city, but never Nashville. And that felt special.

Delicate Steve drummer Mike Duncan pours his soul into the percussion.

They were preceded by Delicate Steve, a band I'd seen a couple years back at The End. I was thoroughly unimpressed then and saw little to change my opinion tonight, but they have improved. They specialize in a brand of slightly offbeat, light and breezy instrumental indie rock.

Steve Marion put on an expert display with his guitar leads, and Mike Duncan's drums were thunderous. They also added in some light vocals here and there, but it's extremely minor. Nothing bad about them, it's just that watching a guy play a guitar solo for 50 minutes gets more than a bit boring.

They did a great job of setting the stage for Yeasayer, who affirmed once again their status as a great live act and reaffirmed my faith in them a bit. After a few missteps on Odd Blood, I was a bit on the fence. But tonight they demonstrated enough that I may need to give Fragrant World a shot after all.

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