Yeah Yeah Yeahs live in Manchester: indie sleaze icons triumphantly kick off ‘Cool It Down’ era

Manchester Apollo, June 5: the returning heroes, headlining in the UK for the first time in nine years, stake their claim as the best live band around

Before launching into a euphoric ‘Heads Will Roll’, Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen “O” Orzolek addresses the hyped crowd. “We’ve been through so much. How could we have done it without love, man?”, she asks.  Tonight, as she notes, is the trio’s first official  show since the pandemic – and their first headline date on these shores in nine years – and there’s certainly a lot of love in the room, as they receive a hero’s welcome.

They arrive amid “indie sleaze” nostalgia for the early ’00s garage-rock boom. If you squint slightly, you can see the logic: it’s been argued that the Meet Me In The Bathroom New York band renaissance was kindled by a sense of urgency that life is too short and can run out at any time in the aftermath of 9/11, and you might see how a similar carpe-diem hedonism and have-a-go-spirit could arrive after COVID.

But if indie-pop’s weather vane has shifted to align with the angular guitars of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2003 thunderclap debut ‘Fever to Tell’, perversely the group kick off their Manchester Apollo set by ushering in a new era, with recent single ‘Spitting Off The Edge of The World’. Like Greta Thunberg going synth-wave, it’s an apocalyptic team-up with Perfume Genius (sadly not here tonight) that sees Orzolek tackle ecological collapse, while swathed in moody red lights.

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Resplendent in a spiked hat and shredded outfit that makes her look like a Mad Max character hosting a children’s birthday party (accessorised with an outsized ‘KO’ hanging around her neck), Orzolek charismatically reminds everyone why stages were designed for her: lassoing the microphone around during the rollicking tension-and-release of ‘Pin’, striking messianic rock poses during ‘Down Boy’ and inspiring communal catharsis on the still raw-as-a-bruise ‘Maps’ (dedicated to Orzolek’s late father in law who was from nearby Stockport), as she’s stoned by adulation – it’s probably the only place in 2022 you can hear millennials and Generation Z  yell “I love you Karen!” without it sounding sarcastic.

The band, expanded for the tour by  fourth member Imaad Wasif, remain tourniquet-tight. Still looking like he’s been sketched by Tim Burton, Nick Zinner’s coiled-spring guitar playing remains wiry and twitchy, while Brian Chase pummels his drumkit like it’s personally offended him. Three additional songs from forthcoming album ‘Cool It Down’ are previewed tonight, which hint at big, widescreen pop, and pent-up emotion. The bombastic ‘Burning’ again conjures up existential climate disaster imagery, and a brooding intensity ripples through ‘Wolf’, while ‘Blacktop’ feels like Depeche Mode darkwave with Orzolek’s falsetto floating airily over the top.

If the new tracks glower, however, a party atmosphere is stoked by the classics. During the soaring electro of ‘Zero’, two huge inflatable eyeballs (as is tradition) are hurled into the crowd, while a two-pronged attack of ‘Maps’ and ‘Y Control’ ends with Orzolek lying dramatically on the floor, as if a chalk outline is about to be drawn around her.

An explosion of pink ticker tape greets ‘Heads Will Roll’, while the encore sees them perform a synthed-up version of self-described 2006 “deep cut” ‘Honeybear’, before culminating in a ferocious ‘Date With The Night’, where they halt, musical-statue-style, mid-song for a crowd-pleasing fake-ending. As Orzolek ends by smashing up her microphones, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs exit safe in the knowledge they’re back to stake their claim as the best live band around.

Credit: Jamie Macmillan

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played:

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‘Spitting Off the Edge of the World’

‘Cheated Hearts’

‘Pin’

‘Down Boy’

‘Burning’

‘Zero’

‘Wolf’

‘Soft Shock’

‘Blacktop’

‘Gold Lion’

‘Maps’

‘Y Control’

‘Heads Will Roll’

‘Honeybear’

‘Date With the Night’

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