Yeasayer at the Ogden Theatre
Sunday is usually a pretty uneventful day of the week, at least for me. It’s most likely spent sleeping, eating too much, or sitting around my record player, wistfully recalling the weekend and the dreadfully inevitable Monday looming around the corner. This Sunday evening was, dare I say, something entirely different.
One of many excellent parts about seeing bands that aren’t quite mainstream is hearing their openers who are essentially nobody (yet). I very briefly researched Daughn Gibson before heading to the Ogden and was able to gather that he: A) has a crazy low voice that’s somehow vaguely reminiscent of Morrissey, B) kind of looks like a male model, C) utilizes piano and other conventional instruments blended with processed vocal samples and lumbering electronic beats, and finally, D) doesn’t have a Wiki page (key word yet). Therefore, I had no idea what to expect for a live performance besides the fact that I had bet it would be pretty dang cool. I was not disappointed.
When Gibson took the stage with a female accompanist (who he simply introduced as “Mary”) he nonchalantly greeted the crowd with a wry smile and promptly launched into his first song in the set. Let me tell you, this guy has serious swagger. His dance moves mainly consisted of swaying about suggestively while crooning into the mic with signature slack-jawed mannerisms; his voice was sweet, low and thick like honey. I heard some dude behind me compare his demeanor to Sylvester Stallone, and I wouldn’t say that was too inaccurate.
Gibson’s humor was mainly sarcastic but remarkably deadpan. When prefacing one of his more popular tracks (“In the Beginning”) he rambled off a short, off-the-cuff monologue that very well could have been rehearsed, but was most likely improvised: “Sometimes you see someone and you don’t say hello. Sometimes you give a weak handshake. Sometimes,” he continued, pointing at a large, bald, bearded man in the front row, “Sometimes this guy curses in front of children.” A ghost of a grin appeared on the corners of his mouth. “This song is called ‘Big Mistakes.’” It wasn’t.
The most interesting aspect of Gibson’s set was the payoff of his unique fusion of synthesized elements and crooning, western-like vocals. Such a combination in theory sound pretty weird, right? Well it is, but inherent in its weirdness is a sonic atmosphere that seems untouched and unexplored. Gibson is an innovator for this, his tunes an aggregate of loping, shuffle-and click backbeats evocative of downtempo paired with synth sparkles and cowboy-esque storytelling. The best description of Gibson I’ve read comes from the top comment on a YouTube clip of his song “Tiffany Lou,” which reads, “He’s like James Blake in a ten gallon hat.” After he closed the set with an ominous experimental jam featuring distorted vocal samples and synth loops, incongruous drum fills via MIDI keyboard, and a swirling piano melody, he said his farewell rather unceremoniously: “Later, y’all.”
Now, for the main act. For those unfamiliar with Yeasayer, I feel bad for you. You should feel bad too. Just kidding, don’t feel bad, just watch this video and then get back to me.
If I had to succinctly describe Yeasayer’s sound, I would probably say it would be the lovechild between experimental art-rock and psychedelic pop. These Brooklynites started gaining a following after 2007’s All Hour Cymbals, a jagged, world-rhythm and instrumental inspired romp that captures an environment that is simultaneously part Brooklyn contemporary art gallery scene and part West African village scene. Their second album, which they produced themselves in a “secluded cabin studio” (move over Justin Vernon), vaulted Yeasayer’s popularity in the sacred circles of progressive experimental music with noteworthy tracks such as “Madder Red,” “O.N.E.,” and, of course, “Ambling Alp.”
As the crowd anxiously awaited Chris Keating and company to take the stage, I noticed some interesting things. These included (but were not limited to) a variety of fascinating haircuts, a couple of real chill brahs who decided to bring a giant inflatable hammer along for the ride, and a guy in the very front row who had to have tripled my age at least, casually sipping a beer. I was impressed, to say the least.
Finally, when the curtains opened, ecstatic cheers erupted from the crowd. A wall of prism-shaped mirrors stood behind the instruments like the backdrop of a sci-fi rave club. The overhead lights dimmed, the venue’s intermission music ceased, and the stage lights transformed into lasers so intense Dr. Evil would be proud. I knew at that moment these kiddos would put on one hell of a show.
The first two songs were off this year’s Fragrant World, including undeniably infectious single “Henrietta.” This was followed by, in my opinion, one of All Hour Cymbals’ strongest tracks “2080,” which prompted a vigorous call-and-response to the manically fast-paced bridge. The show was ultimately a whirlwind of high-energy renditions of many tracks off Fragrant World as well as tested fan-favorites from All Hour Cymbals and Odd Blood; abstract projections swirled feverishly about on the mirror backdrop as the band grooved, and the crowd was a tidal wave of convulsive dancing and spirited sing-alongs. Highlights of the set included the near disco-vibe produced by bouncy arpeggiated synth harmonies in “O.N.E.,” paired with the euphoric feeling of being among hundreds of people singing and boogying to the chorus: “Hold me like before/hold me like you used to/control me like you used to.”
“Tightrope,” which they wrote for 2009’s excellent Dark Was the Night compilation, is probably my favorite Yeasayer track. When they played it as the second to last song in the encore, it demonstrated how tight this 5-piece has become in the past few years. There’s a perfect balance of rhythmic space and vocal harmonies blending over the simplistic, reverberating guitar melodies, and the live version proved simply to be brighter, louder, and more animated.
I had high expectations for Yeasayer’s performance, but couldn’t have anticipated the magnificence of such a distinctive set and the irrefutable tenacity of their stage presence. In all actuality, the timing of this show was impeccable. The very night before a new school year begins, Yeasayer sang in indisputable high hopes to a fervent Denver audience: “It’s a new year, I’m glad to be here/It’s a fresh spring, so let’s sing/And the moon shines bright on the water tonight/So we won’t drown in the summer sound.” Let’s not drown, friends. It’s a new year, so just keep swimming.
Photos and review by Sig Steiger. Show on 08/26/12.