By: Kyle Cavaness Yeasayer The Observatory 8/12/13 Yeasayer sounds like music should sound in the 21st century. They use live instruments, but rely just as much on samples and synth pads as drums and guitars. They sing harmonies, but aren't showy about it. You could call them a rock band, but that feels like a technicality - their sound borrows from pop, reggae, Afrobeat and probably five other things I'm not cool enough to know about.
The band opened with "2080," from their first release in 2007, before diving into two tracks from Fragrant World, "Henrietta" and "Longevity," the latter of which sounds like a stoned Michael Jackson fooling around with a dubstep track. The crowd sang along with all the hits from Odd Blood, Yeasayer's 2010 record that you should get, including "O.N.E." and "Madder Red." The Fragrant songs still felt fresh and focused after a year on the road, and the band seemed to have more fun with the newer songs than the old - the quasi-disco of "Reagan's Skeleton" and "Demon Road" had an urgency that some of the older songs didn't share.
The Yeasayer on stage at the Observatory were different than the band on their records, which are filled with production tricks that makes singers sound like a helium-sucking speak-n-spell. The use of pre-programmed samples and keyboard beep-and-boopery didn't stop the band from sounding loose and spontaneous - drummer Cale Parks added depth that shifted what could have been an electro-based set into weirder, post-Radiohead territory.
Guitarist Anand Wilder split lead vocal chores with singer/keyboarder Chris Keating, but it was Keating that spoke to the crowd.
"We've been in tour for a year and this is our last show, officially," Keating told the crowd. The band is wrapping up promotional duties for Fragrant World, released a year ago next week, and Yeasayer has been touring ever since. As the show went on and the band loosened up, something like relief started to show on their faces. Keating said the group plans to finish writing their next album and possibly record in California when it's ready.
Bassist Ira Wolf Tuton is Yeasayer's utility player, laying down backing vocals behind both lead singers and running through a variety of effects. His synth-like bass parts occasionally fly under the radar, but the jagged bass lines in "Folk Hero Schtick" and ending solo of "Ambling Alp" were simply pure.
Opener Mini Mansions was a pleasant surprise - the trio sounded like a mix of Tame Impala and Pinkerton-era Weezer, with a lot of Beatles and psychedelia mixed in. Their cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass," slowed to a crawl by bassist Zach Dawes' fuzz work, was spectacular. Queens of the Stone Age bassist-turned-frontman Michael Shuman sang and played drums standing up, often at the same time, which looked exhausting.
Crowd: Mostly head-bobbers, except for the two aggro bro's in the front that decided to get in a fight during the next to last song. (Bassist Ira jumped into the crowd to settle them down, to the amusement of the rest of the band.) A few hippie-pods materialized in the back, doing those acid head tai chi dance moves no one else can pull off sober.
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Overheard: "I usually prefer go to small club shows, but the sight lines here are fucking awesome!"
Notebook Dump: Yeasayer's name always makes me think of my favorite stupid 30 Rock joke - no one wants to go along with Tracy's plan, and he yells, "What is this, horse-ville? I feel like I'm surrounded by neigh-sayers!" Classic.
Setlist: 2080 Henrietta Longevity Blue Paper O.N.E. Don't Come Close Madder Red Demon Road Folk Hero Schtick Reagan's Skeleton Ambling Alp Devil & The Deed Fingers Never Bleed Tight Rope Summer