The trajectory of the somehow effete Brooklyn psych brigade known only as Yeasayer has taken more swerves than most baseballs. Début full-length All Hour Cymbals was an introspective work seamed with the expressively ethnic, though still pop-geared sensibilities of vocalist-cum-guitarist Anand Wilder, while its 2010 follow-up, Odd Blood, took the formula and twisted it beyond recognition as Chris Keating polluted an already potent mélange with an unmixed disco leaning. It heralded the trio’s imminent prominence, and with that their induction into the realms of pop, popular culture, and so forth. As was their wont, two and a half years passed – 30 months in which Odd Blood continued to course through the intravenous inner workings of our iTunes – before we were welcomed into their third record, Fragrant World. With all due respect, it wasn’t their finest but more an in many ways flimsy redux of its predecessor. That it came preceded by the majestic undulations of Henrietta only incurred further disappointment.
Though Wilder, Keating, and bassist Ira Wolf Tuton have yet to err on fixating their collected attentions on the live show. It’s an admirable quality and, as elucidated by Tuton in our recent chinwag, of prime concern as the trio convene for three concerted months in which the fine-tuning of what we witness tonight is their only consideration. And indeed as far as the Yeasayer show goes, I’ve yet to experience one that’s been anything less than exemplary. They lit up a Friday gloaming at this year’s Latitude, where they swooped right on in after none other than Lana Del Rey. It was a truly startling juxtaposition that not only evinced the tremendous strength of the rundown compiled by Melvin Benn et al., but also the otherwise unprecedented similarities in style, if not industry stratagem. For Yeasayer are, in its unalloyed form, a modern-day pop band. In that same interview, Tuton avowed to having always perceived the troupe to be strictly operating within the parameters of the genre and tonight is but further vindication of his previously articulated self-assurance.
Tonight set against amorphous forms constructed of angular shivers of mirror transmitting polychromatic contusions, they look the part. The light show, too, is worthy of another O2-affiliated monstrosity t’other side of town. But how does what was essentially an altogether deflating latest contribute to the band’s lust for live euphoria? And how are they now perceived by their increasingly general public? I’ll tackle the latter first for although perhaps more superfluous, the response is no less startling.
Our immediate reaction proves rabid. There’s a fidgety brilliance tonight stuffed down the briefs of Blue Paper, the front row what resembles any generic, most likely fluoro-daubed rack from that dastardly nearby Westfield promptly losing it from minute zero. Henrietta then resounds with a striking buoyancy, as the pit begins to bob under a shower of aqueous blue hues and maddening laser reflections. This is Yeasayer the pop band opting to put pedal to the metal, throttling the jugular as they speed off toward omnipotence with a lit Winston dangling precariously from perpetually moisturised lips. It’s pop at its most shiny, alluring, and enticing though that it should attract a multitude so soaked in mainstream commensurately bothered by what they’re wearing as that which they’re playing seems bizarre. It lends the impression that Topshop must’ve had Fragrant World on an unremitting repeat since its release now months ago. Of course Yeasayer have always toyed with the dichotomy between the accessible and the experimental, but have they begun to overcompensate on the former? This samey miscellany would suggest as much…
Certainly the limp, stilted disco of Reagan’s Skeleton plays with ’80s power pop bombast that’s as infectious as it is infuriating when set against their glistering previous, whilst the viscous bloops of Demon Road prove immoderately exhausting live. They end on the impenetrable stalk of Folk Hero Schtick for reasons unknown, also: a grossly clunky vehicle that’s not exactly the ideal sign off, nor indeed ideal for all that much, effectively. Though those here assembled continue to jostle, leaving others clustered within feeling like the buffers in an overused pinball machine. With its lyrics of nudist rulers, it’s a little Emperor’s New Clothes, as is Fingers Never Bleed which, in this setting, sounds perplexingly redolent of Moby tinkering away with Black Betty. For me, Yeasayer’s output has always come cloaked in a staunch American traditionalism that’s as Mayan as it is Manhattan. This one, however, oversteps the mark.
Excluded from the finalised tracklisting to Fragrant World, Don’t Come Close then recalls a Serengeti Springsteen. It fills the room, as the walls are drenched in the sheer extravagance of Orbital’s omnisensorial assaults though meanders a little too unsuspectingly, maybe. Unexceptional. Which is the direct antithesis of its seamless transition into a storming Madder Red, for which the place is now fit to burst. It’s a clear indication of the band’s desperate attempts to calibrate the back catalogue within a live context, and one they’ve committed to with an utmost conviction. Though does the newfangled gleam with which Fragrant World came japanned mar older masterpieces? The results are irrefutably varied: whilst O.N.E. is reconfigured to incorporate tens of auxiliary layers and treated as though a show-stopping chart-topper from the vertiginously lofty Level 3 down to the ground, though bathed in resplendent estival hues an Amish rerun of Wait For The Summer could leave an Inuit cold.
Ambling Alp, too, is overdone: preluded by geeky prattle and sticky pitter-patter samples, it doesn’t wash quite as well as it once did. It then belonged in White City in a now-defunct TOTP studio; it’s here set up as a transatlantic Crystal Fighters having a crack at an Apple ad placement. A nifty, if much deliberated over bass solo brings some much needed eccentricity though overwrought, if heavyweight German Max Schmeling were once deemed a “formidable foe” then Yeasayer tonight momentarily conspire to become their own worst enemies.
They’re at their most formidable themselves, though, when Wilder is at the forefront both vocally and musically. Always have been, I’d argue. And as was with an intriguing, if slightly underwhelming Don’t Come Close it’s another to have been inexplicably omitted from all completed recordings that symbolises Keating’s highlight in an oddly tropical Tightrope. Scrupulously polished, it’s at once both a reminder of what Yeasayer once were and still could be, were they to ditch the Demon Road winding away deep down into this strangely scented Fragrant World of theirs.
A weird one then, and one rendered all the more so by the sound of Craig David’s 7 Days emanating from the speakers come its close. Never mind, never mind, then…