I’m a chronic procrastinator in many more ways than I should be, especially when it comes to writing up show reviews. I think the way I process some live music can best be captured when writing up my thoughts the morning immediately following seeing a great show or concert, when I’m still seeping with major energy and adrenaline and the smell of beer and sweat still fresh on my clothing. Sometimes, though, I need to take a step back and process the show much later. Maybe as much as 10 days later, as is the case with this review you’re reading right now. Sometimes a band’s energy doesn’t fully sink in until you’re allowed more time to dive back into their catalog, or to listen to that one track that really surprised you live 25 times (or more) on shuffle, or to check out other YouTube videos of the band playing live, or try to figure out what cover they ended with, etc.
For the Yeasayer and MGMT double-bill, double-show two Fridays ago at Schubas in Chicago, I chose to put off the review until I had decided I had fully grasped how good of a show I did see. Or, more likely, until I had a four hour flight from San Francisco to Chicago with little interest in reading the latest book I got for free from the Authors@Google talks that I’m fortunate to be able to frequent. It’s with that I’ll try to put some words down on
paper blog to explain the energy and buzz in the room after catching two solid, up-and-comers in the indie music scene at one of my favorite music venues in all of Chicago. Try to pretend you’re there with me, and maybe this will all make sense.
I arrived right on time and meandered through the bar area to head back into the venue area of Schubas, taking my spot with a huge crowd overflowing into the bar area. MGMT had already begun playing and I was pretty sure I had only missed the first two minutes, if anything at all. Yeasayer would be headlining and I was much more jazzed up to see them, but I was psyched that it was only a double-bill and that my attention span wouldn’t be put to the limit, as is the case with some four-band shows that I used to frequent back in my teenage concert-going years.
Before I had started paying too much attention, I found myself a beer and thought about how this set, that the band had just begun, was immediately following their “headlining” set for the early show that started at 7pm. That has to be a hard set to play as a band, and I imagined that they probably did their best to throw some variety or uniqueness into the late show to allow themselves the proper inspiration and motivation to get a crowd interested. At least that’s what I’d do.
Being largely unfamiliar with MGMT’s music in general, I hadn’t really gotten into the groove of their set into about two or three songs in. But when it clicked, it clicked. I dug it. Their music would be hard for me to describe, and I’d probably need to spend much more time with their catalog above and beyond the 20 minutes I spent watching videos online the next day. Sometimes it bordered on prog rock, sometimes there were just straight-up classic rock anthem influences shining through, and they closed with a weird techno-driven singalong dance number. Okay then.
Before seeing them that night, I had only seen their debut on network television on the Late Show with David Letterman, a fairly big deal in the music world and a new badge of honor proving that your music is officially “making it” in today’s topsy turvy music industry. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but seeing their whole set really made me think that these guys have a lot of talent and a lot of uniqueness and originality in the way their songs were structured and played. Plus, they looked pretty f***ing cool, too. They had the whole, “we’re messy old-school styling rockers,” style going on, most noticeably on the three dudes out front singing for most of the set and the bassist who rocked an old style Rickenbocker bass, a truly lovely instrument in appearance.
So even though I was psyched that these guys were surprising me musically, if I had to critique one thing, I’m not sure I was so cool with the finale of their set. It seemed to me to be a messy s***-bomb of a performance of one of their MySpace hits, which was just full-out strange to me. It didn’t seem to stylistically match any single other tune that they had played earlier in their set. Maybe they should have finished up with the tune they played on Letterman, the one song that everyone in the crowd recognized and seemed to enjoy the most. In fairness, it sure was memorable and maybe that’s exactly what they were going for.
Midway through their set, I got text confirmation from my buddy on where he and his girl were standing and made my way through the tangled mass of hipsters forming barriers to a proper line of site to the band I was most there to see. That band, the one I’ve already blog-fluffed when I was preparing for the show, was Yeasayer, a relative newcomer to the musical radar of the thought-leaders in the industry (read: music bloggers) and mp3 aggregators alike. If you hadn’t heard of them yet, I imagine you’ll hear more about them in the coming months. These dudes have chops, and not too surprisingly, a little bit of hipster in them that might speak to their Brooklyn musical roots (read: non-ironic mustaches).
The setbreak after MGMT was minimal, and the boys in Yeasayer quickly got to work on their equipment by loading up some nice tribal ambient music that signaled the beginning of one of the best sets of music I had seen in a while. At this point I’m not sure what they opened with or what they closed with, or truly, if any of that really matters. I’m pretty sure they played every song off All Hours Cymbals, the album they’ve working on supporting with this tour, their 2007 CMJ performances, and with the upcoming SXSW 2008 showcases they have already booked (which, by the way, I’ll probably try to attend and bring others en mass). The real energy seemed to be on the tunes that have a little more groove and rhythm attached to them (as opposed to the ones with a little more gospel twinge), including “Sunrise,” “Wait for the Summer,” and an absolutely ripping “2080.” I dare you to listen to that song and not get whisked away to your own personal, tribal happyland. The album version hardly does the live energy justice on this track; check out this video below to get your own taste.
Watching these guys in action is great fun; they really show a lot of energy when they play and their harmonizing and vocal prowess is absolutely spine-tingling. They had everyone hanging onto their music, so much so that the band got a full-on “Yeasayer! Yeasayer!” chant at the end of their set as everyone waited for the encore. The band hopped off stage into the “backstage” area at Schubas, which if you’ve been there you know that this is actually outside of the venue completely. It’s outdoors right on Belmont Avenue, a busy Chicago thoroughfare, hardly a spot for a band to collect themselves to play another tune. And sadly, somehow, the band did not have anything left in them to play. The drummer came back on stage and thanked everyone for the cheers and said that they were truly out of songs to play, a sentiment that was somewhat pathetic and yet totally endearing. I mean, the cynic is me simply thought, “How the hell can this band not have ONE more song in their repertoire to encore with, especially with a crowd of people chanting? Not ONE cover even?!?” The happier, more forgiving Justin thought, “Wow — what a great way to truly leave a crowd wanting more…” Given the turnout that night — one sold-out show leading to another sold-out show — I’d say these guys know what they’re doing.
For my money, I’d say both of these bands deserve a solid listen and some support by checking out their live set. Buy a beer, have some fun, and hope that these bands stay in it for the long haul. They’ve got plenty of double-bills to look forward to if the momentum remains what it is currently, and given that they’re both playing showcases down at SXSW this year, I’d say the chances are good that they’ll pick up some more steam heading into the summer.
After the drummer kindly turned everyone away, my buddy and his misses wanted to head out for more shenanigans at the bar next to the Metro, The Ginger Man. As fun as I’m sure it would have been, I decided to head home after that. As it turns out, I was without an encore myself.