What new material did the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play on Wednesday night at SXSW? Well, first, can we talk about what Karen O was wearing?
Strutting out on stage with her freshly platinum’d blonde hair to introduce the first song, “Mosquito,” the title track from their upcoming fourth full-length, she was dressed in a flowered yellow pantsuit with a metallic tank top, a Christmas tree’s worth of red, white, and blue tinsel wrapped around her shoulders, and a hat with YEAH spelled out in big red letters.
There was a whole lot of look in her look, but she had just enough art-star attitude to pull it off. “I’ll suck your blood!” she howled. “Suck your, suck your blood!” And the way the crowd whipped themselves into a frenzy, you’d think they were ready to stick out their necks and let her bite down.
Next, she donned a headlamp for another new track “Under the Earth” and turned the lights down low. Shooting a stream of light through the darkness, she sang about going down down under earth, creating an eerie glow that fit the song’s otherworldly vibe perfectly. Older songs followed, but she kicked up the drama enough to make them sound so fresh, it was as if she’d just written them for the first time on a beer coaster back stage.
She put her mic in her mouth, leaned back, and screeched her lungs out on “Art Star.” She got the whole audience to sing the high-pitched oh ohs on “Gold Lion.” Guitarist Nick Zinner took his habitual photos of the crowd from the stage, right before launching into their dark-disco anthem “Zero.”
Karen changed into her black leather jacket with “K.O.” bedazzled on the back – which, when she turned around with her back to us, made her look a little like the glam-rock Elvis. And she could work a crowd like Elvis, too. After dialing back the energy to premiere the sad slow-burner “Subway” from Mosquito, she lassoed the mic chord above her head on “Cheated Hearts,” and later fashioned it into a noose, pretending to choke herself on stage.
There was plenty of drink-spitting on stage, and even some drink-tossing, with ice raining down everywhere. And yet, when she demanded that everyone “dance ‘til you’re dead” on the finale “Heads Will Roll,” they did, jumping and flailing their arms in the air below her.
That song might’ve closed the set, but ”Maps” stood out as the most memorable moment. Somewhere in a night of full-blown kick-you-in-the-speakers bravado, here was their most vulnerable song, and O was ready to dive face-first right into it. Ten years ago, O fell off the stage, hitting her head on a guardrail before a monitor collapsed onto her head. But now, she was ready to be brave again. Leaning out over the crowd, she shouted, “Who’s gonna catch me if I fall? WHO’S GONNA CATCH ME IF I FALL?” The answer? Everyone here.
Watch the full set below:
Under the Earth
Heads Will Roll