For anyone who has been paying attention to the music scene for long enough, you will have noticed a continual theme. The death of Rock n’ Roll is always imminent.
One of my favorite lines from Almost Famous, set in the fictional 1973, is Lester Bangs telling young aspiring music journo’ William, “your writing is damn good, it's just a shame you missed out on Rock n’ Roll. It's over. You got here just in time for the death rattle, the last gasp, the last grope.”
Some people, like Lester (or perhaps Cameron Crowe), felt that when disco came through in the 70’s that was the end of Rock n’ Roll. Then it was corporate record companies and ‘suits’ who killed it, closely followed by commercialism, money and greed. Not to be forgotten are MTV, ‘rap music’ (as it was still called back in the day), DJ’s and electronic music and of course the final nails in the coffin, Napster, the internet and illegal downloading.
However there always seems to be a phoenix ready to rise from the ashes of the latest Rock n’ Roll casualty.
And if you are young enough and new to music at any given time, the new phoenix will always become one of the greatest bands in Rock n’ Roll for you. This is part of the magic of ‘first times’. You have very little reference points, you tend not to over-analyze and the music can take you to places you have never been before.
The counter point is of course that the longer you have been listening to music, the more you have heard it all before. Everything sounds like next <<insert old band name here>> and in the end it becomes harder and harder to be taken to that place your old favorite albums used to, and often still do take you.
And this is where Yeasayer enter.
Like anything that is new or different, it took me quite a while to find my place with the Yeasayer sound. I did not walk away completely sold on them after seeing them live the first time, at this same venue a few years back. But a seed was planted and before I knew it their second album ‘Odd Blood’ had become my most played album of 2010. I was a born again convert, preaching to anyone that would listen to me about the virtues of these boys from Brooklyn.
I am yet to hear anyone adequately describe the Yeasayer sound. Even their new album ‘Fragrant World’ didn’t really sound like anything or anyone other than, well Yeasayer. But after a few listens I was hooked again, with an excitement that I now find rare in new albums.
So needless to say I was beyond excited when they announced they would be playing Amsterdam in September and then pretty disappointed when the show was cancelled because of the birth of guitarist and keyboardist Anand Wilder's daughter.
Having recently gone down the path of fatherhood myself I can happily sympathize with Anand, although I question how hard it really is to schedule your tour around something that you should know about 9 months in advance? But who I am to question a man in a Rock n’ Roll band – we all know they do things a little differently.
To cut a long story short(ish), we found ourselves back at the Paradiso on the night of Sinterklaas, for our third installment of Yeasayer live. Given the rescheduling of the show and the fact that it was on the Dutch equivalent to Christmas Night, I was unsure how the crowd would shape up.
Although it was not a sellout, under the circumstances it was actually a really good number of people, the majority of which seemed to be pretty trendy locals with not too much English to be heard, at least around where we were standing.
Tonight I would not be disappointed. Tonight I could not fault this show in the slightest. This was certainly the most complete set I had seen from them to-date. With three albums of material now to choose from, the set list was heavily weighted with catchy, clever and foot taping songs that kept their audience swaying, head nodding, hand clapping and singing along from beginning to end. The set design and lighting was eye catching and professional and I think this was also the most engaged I had seen the band with their audience.
I dare to say I may have even seen my partner in crime, Mr. Jason Vaughan, join the masses to clap along to more than one song for the first time in all our concert attendances. This would be a night to remember.
As expected their set was dominated by tracks from the new album, which were just as good live as I had envisaged them while listening to the album. In particular I thought Henrietta came to life in the live setting and the version of Longevity was great. As was Devil and the Deed, no doubt my favorite track from the new album.
When VP Music spoke with Yeasayer bass player Ira Wolf Tuton back in June he talked at length about the process of turning the album material into a live show:
“The thing about the progression is that after you make the record you have to retranslate that into a live context. You can’t just play. It’s not like we are Interpol where it’s gonna sound note for note, exactly the same. We have to go about rearranging it, everything from tempo’s being different, to tonally shifting things, picking certain hooks that we bring to the four, what can we take out? Things don’t always translate live that are on record, so that takes some time.”
It was great to see the final product and it was clear the band has mastered this translation after a summer of touring. The same applies to their older material which the band seems to be continually rearranging and fine tuning. All the songs from Odd Blood were well received by the crowd, particularly Ambling Alp which has clearly become a huge fan favorite. Personally I still can’t go past O.N.E. and my night had already been made 5 songs into the set.
They finished the night with a fantastic version of Tight Rope, their contribution to the Dark was the Night compilation.
Everything about this show and Yeasayer in general makes me excited about music again and again.
Despite the most recent fatality of Rock n’ Roll, here is a band living the dream. They record the music they want, the way they want. It is self produced and has a sound that is unique and that most people would argue is not commercially friendly.
I am sure they work hard to get their music out there, talking to anyone that will listen and touring hard. But they seem to love it. Their shows are distinctive and continually developing and they are clearly some very artistic and talented gentlemen.
Yeasayer might not sound like Zeppelin or the other legends of Rock n’ Roll, but isn’t that the point? In another classic line Almost Famous, Jeff explains that ‘Rock n’ Roll is a lifestyle and a way of thinking.’ And at the moment I am not sure if I see anyone who embodies that philosophy more.