Over on this side of the pond at last, the New Yorkers come neon-clad and highly charged. Academy, Manchester, Wednesday April 22
Beneath a huge floating eyeball, a woman with a luminous pink spiral over her face is hypnotising the crowd. While a demonic disco song throbs, she stalks around like Spider-Man in a K-hole, holding dramatic poses, ripping off one sleeve and shrieking “heads will roll”. Stomping on a glitter cannon to signal that we are now under her control, Karen O reveals her face, grins, then screeches about her “black tongue”. Given the voodoo ritual that is now their live show, it’s apt that Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover The Cramps’ ‘Human Fly’ next, a song so powerful it once made inmates at Napa State Mental Hospital dance their way so far into madness they came out the other side perfectly sane.
‘It’s Blitz!’ is YYY’s new album, and although talk has been about them going disco it’s actually a far more mysterious, transfixing work that is the most perfect realisation yet of the band’s wonderful tension between fragile emotion and raw power. Atmosphere is as important to them as cheap garage thrills these days, and with indie legend David Pajo from Slint accompanying them as second guitarist and keyboardist, the new songs prove sensational. As ‘Dull Life’ begins its gentle rumble, Ms O slowly brings her microphone down from above her head down to her mouth, almost managing to restrain a smile at the eroticism of the act. As the song bursts forth and she sings of the beast within, and reminds herself to “know myself”, you’re aware of how much of a disguise her easy, disarming grin is, because she bares herself in her songs. As if in response to this, the evil eyeball above Brian Chase’s pulverising jazz clatter is turned demurely around. ‘Gold Lion’ keeps the feeling coming in a mass singalong, its outro showing Nick Zinner still has an appetite for guitar sex violence despite his new flirtations with keyboards.
After a brief step back in time to the ‘Bang’ EP for a manic ‘Miles Away’, comes a stunning ‘Skeletons’. Forget ‘Hysteric’, this is the new ‘Maps’; a heartbreak song charged with strangeness, Karen O stood stock-still, eyes shut in the blue-green light like a lover exiled to the bottom of the sea. It sounds like Suicide at their most soulful.“Yeah, yeah, yeah, they’re deep, we get it, now what about ‘Zero’?” I hear you cry. OK. Well, the second Zinner charges up that intro buzz Manchester goes ballistic. Karen O’s nowhere to be seen at first, then on she struts, grinning from ear to ear: she’s been to get The Jacket. She pops the collar, shows the crowd the studded ‘KO’ on the back then instructs them to, “Shake it…” This is apparently only the third time they’ve played it live, and they’re clearly taken aback by how mental people go. When the song kicks in hard for the second verse, Karen O loses all cool and just bounces ecstatically, while behind her Brian Chase is beaming. ‘Wow’ is the word.
For the encore Her Royal Aceness returns in an over-sized kimono and dedicates ‘Maps’ to everyone’s lovers. It’s still a breathtaking tearjerker, with those two Zinner solos carrying so much poignant power. After ‘Maps’’ tight embrace ‘Date With The Night’ releases all the tension, and those that survive it can reflect on just how good YYYs have become. They were always thrilling, but with the beauty of their recent work they’ve taken things to another level. Rob your own grandmother for a ticket.