You know how Bob Dylan creatively mangles his songs in concert so that it takes a few bars to recognise which track he’s playing? Yeasayer are a bit like that. The sonically omnivorous, psychedelic yet catchy, constantly morphing, Brooklyn-indie version of that. While it guarantees their being a hipster’s delight, it also means they tend to bamboozle the mainstream. But despite enjoying their three albums to date, I sympathised with the mainstream.
The core trio of Anand Wilder, Chris Keating and Ira Wolf Tuton was augmented by a drummer, Cale Parks. The stage backdrop consisted of prismatic mirrored shapes that doubled as projection screens – a suitably angular, flickery, reflexive metaphor for the music. Instruments were hooked up to software to deploy a host of weird sounds. Usually, I’m all for experimentation. At times, though, the band seemed intent on a what-happens-if-we-press-this-button approach. Keating made a twitchily serviceable frontman but I could just as well have been listening on headphones.
“Longevity” had an R&B slouch – most characteristic of the current album, Fragrant World – beneath its falsetto yelps and staccato bleeps. All the basic data were there for Timberlake 3.0 (should that upgrade ever appear), except Justin would reboot the chorus for improved chart functionality. “O.N.E”, Yeasayer’s most danceable track, was retooled at a more languid tempo, its club throb sublimated to harp-like trills, shot through with spidery electro. A bold and beautiful move but Keating so loved the string sample that he replayed it severally for different sections of the crowd. He got the heartiest cheer when he then dedicated it to Streatham, home of the Englishman who mixed Fragrant World, Dan Carey. It’s a south-London thing.
Tuton’s bass was stealthily funky. A noodling Wilder guitar part segued neatly into “Madder Red”, another of his woozy pop mantras. An urgent disco pulse animated “Reagan’s Skeleton”, while “Wait for the Summer”, a techno-pagan jig with a distinctly folky riff, was a highlight.
The last song of the set proper, “Ambling Alp”, came nearest to a full-scale singalong, especially when Keating accidently dropped his mike. Curiously, for an anthem that references boxing, it couldn’t quite land a knockout blow. And that’s how I felt about the show as a whole: lots of clever jabs but no big punches.