YEASAYER "O.N.E." from Paranoid US on Vimeo.
For the first 15-20 minutes of their set last night at Newport Music Hall, Yeasayer seemed more like Meh-sayer. The Brooklyn quintet began with something that sounded like an Enya outtake with little to no melodic movement, followed by a couple more tracks that were admirable more for their exceptional precision than for any physical or emotional stimulation.
Then things got poppin'. I've never been fully invested in Yeasayer's high-tech New Age indie rock, but over the course of two albums they've certainly cranked out some strong singles. That much was evident as they rolled out a potent parade: the tribal aggression of "Sunrise"; the somewhat ridiculous but mostly awesome ritual chanting of "2080"; the New Wave falsetto of "Madder Red"; the club-thumping glossy grooves of "O.N.E."; and, saving the best for last, the skittering anthem "Ambling Alp". The ensuing encore was quick and to the point, perhaps the loudest and most guitar-centric moment in a set dominated by synths, samples and lots of percussion.
The trend was clear: These guys are masters of the pop hook, and when they choose to deploy one, their music benefits immeasurably. The songs that focused on atmosphere don't add much to the records and bring even less to the live setting. As for the visuals: Thumbs up to the light show, and thumbs down to frontman Chris Keating's prancing stage persona.
As always, I felt a swell of hometown pride seeing Sinkane's Ahmed Gallab up there with these guys, but he seems underutilized in this band as a mere utility man. I'm hoping he gets some time to focus on touring with Sinkane some time soon, as I understand the project's latest concoctions are hard and heavy funk.