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all words: William Alberque
all (KILLER!) photos: Shauna Alexander

I was worried, having read Phil Runco’s scathing review of Yeasayer’s April 2010 to DC.  I was there, too, and was unable to articulate exactly what dissatisfied me about that show.  Based on the evidence last Thursday, I think Yeasayer read their reviews.  Why?  Because they had systematically eradicated each of the complaints Phil raised, turning in a performance that was both masterful and satisfying to the highest degree.

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I’ll start with Smith Westerns – they are really excellent and a band to watch. The five-piece play winning, driving 1990s-flavored indie/Britpop to a receptive audience tonight – which is by no means an assured thing. The Smith Westerns couldn’t be farther in sound or spirit from the emotional experimentalism of the main act, but they still put on a great show.  At times, they sound like the brooding, building Pulp of “Pink Glove,” at others like “It’s No Reason”-era the Church, and still others like Fall-era Ride.

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Lead singer Cullen Omori is hiding behind his Chapterhouse fringe and is forced into a guitar trade-out in the middle of the song that he’s “dedicated to all the sluts in the audience,” having broken a string (serves him right).  The keyboardist, astonishingly, picks up the discarded guitar in the middle of the same song and plays a blinding solo on it.  Nice touch.  They close with an epic, “Teenage Kicks” derivative stomper – that’s no bad thing, by the way – before thanking the audience and breaking down their own instruments.  Based on the quality of the songs and the warm reception they received, I can’t imagine them having to do that again.

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With the openers finished, the stage was set (more cacti!) and the lights went dark.  Suddenly, the opening notes of Q Lazzarus’ resplendent “Goodbye Horses” start pumping through the 930 Club’s ample sound system, calling Yeasayer to the stage.  The vocoder intro of “The Children” exploded into an upbeat interpretation of “Madder Rose,” putting the audience instantly into ecstasy.  The club was entirely sold out – months in advance – so the ecstatic reaction of the crowd was to be expected. Regardless, the audience seemed to know each word to the song and sing it with real enthusiasm (and, no, I don’t want to watch the video again).

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Lead singer Chris Keating cuts a dazzling figure as front man and master of ceremonies, while keyboardist/guitarist/second vocalist Anand Wilder sings “Tightrope” (from the 4ad AIDS benefit, Tender is the Night) with real urgency and emotional beauty.  Keating welcomes the crowd and states baldly that the 930 Club is the best venue in the world – qualifying that by noting that it’s really only when you’re playing some small club in Finland that you realize how great the 930 Club is.  Fair enough.  The center keyboard stand, I note, is covered by a cloth decorated with eyeballs, similar to the Pixies Trompe le Monde.  Oddballs.

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Keating introduces a new track (and the LED light system explodes into life with), “Henrietta,”  and it’s just gorgeous – beautiful vocal harmonies between Keating and Wilder over a big 80s indie sound.

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He jokes that no one knew that last one, but hopefully we’d know the next one.  “O.N.E.” bursts out from the speakers, prompting chaos on the floor.  The crowd shout along with glee, dancing with abandon, and the band initiate a clap along before Keating’s falsetto takes it to the next level.

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As I mentioned in my introduction, Yeasayer have eradicated much of what dragged down their previous show – the lack of emotional connection, the over-reliance on noise and effects.  They’ve now fused – nearly perfectly – the electro-pop excitement and energy of Cut Copy with the musicianship and dual vocals of TV on the Radio to become something new and excellent and whole.  They illustrate this point again with another new song, “Devil and the Deed” (premiered on Conan), combining first album Hot Chip with a dash of Animal Collective – both poppy and experimental.  They cut into another Odd Blood favorite, “Mondegreen,” expanding it out to a full ecstasy-fuelled raver.

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“Rome” is next, sounding like a bit of a throw-back to the first album, relying more on guitars and harmonies.  It is perfectly sequenced with “Wait for the Summer” following.  Another big clap along ensues as the audience joins in the singing, too.  It’s back to Odd Blood for “Grizelda,” slow, and beautiful build, with bassist Ira Wolf Tuton fingering his bass’ frets like a keyboard, like an Yngwie Malmsteen parody.  Keating again complements the club and the wonderful staff (and I have to agree – thanks to Chris and Amber for being wonderful to me all evening) before ending the set with “Sunrise” and “Ambling Alp.”

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“Sunrise” has been amped up with more energy and fun than I recall previously, and “Ambling Alp” triggers another huge sing along and mad dancing.  It’s time for the pause before the encore, but no one’s leaving.  In fact, the front is becoming even more crushed by the weight of people pushing in, coming down from the balconies to join the dance floor.  They are greeted with yet another new song, “Demon Road,” which is a bit mid-tempo and not terribly intriguing compared to what we’ve gotten so far.  The set ends with “2080,” and the video backdrop transforms from 8-bit to glowing hi definition, showing the video in full.

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Outside, it’s a monsoon, and I don’t mind – the cool rain takes me home in a contemplative mood, but happy at what I’d seen. Yeasayer continue to grow, from middle-eastern-inflected hippy jams to the Animal Collective you can dance to.  My only quibble is that they left out “I Remember,” a song of near perfect beauty, and worthy of Suicide at their peak.  I’ll leave you with this, then:

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