Returning to Northampton for the first time since 2009, Yeasayer played an energetic set to a animated audience at the Pearl Street Ballroom on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Sinkane opened for Yeasayer, and though people were still trickling in, the experimental group got the crowd moving with impressive rhythms and tempo changes – a considerable feat for any opener.
Brooklyn-based experimental rock/psychedelic pop group Yeasayer opened with “Blue Paper,” a track from its new album “Fragrant World.” Droning synths from the double samplers in front of vocalist Chris Keating formed an ambient layer behind guitarist Anand Wilder’s soothing vocals and the complexly driving march of the drums. The almost tantric build worked for the audience, as once the band hit the song’s breakdown and faster tempo, the audience continued to dance for the remainder of the night.
“For us it’s always about making new sounds and kinda one-upping ourselves in terms of experimentation,” Wilder said, “and we’re really fortunate with Yeasayer. We pretty much just write a song, tell people that it’s Yeasayer, and that’s it. You either love it or you hate it. It’s not like somebody’s telling us (what to do). It’s pretty amazing to have that kind of artistic independence.”
Bassist Ira Wolf Tuton wielded a MIDI bass with a focused mastery. Standing almost stock-still, Tuton manipulated his instrument’s sound between tolling booms, weird whistling chirps and humming drones – sometimes all in the same song.
Yeasayer followed up with crowd-favorite “Henrietta,” the first of many hits from its previous albums that got the crowd harmonizing. “O.N.E.,” “2080” and “Madder Red” all got air time, working fans into a frenzy within the first couple of notes.
Wilder perched by a sampler of his own, manipulating the electronic sound all the while proving his dynamic skill at guitar, alternately providing a shimmery sonic texture or laying down a riff distorted to sound somewhat like an underwater effect.
“You’re always trying to figure out how you can make an interesting sound and usually the song goes from there,” Wilder said, “you come up with interesting melodies and then figure out what you want to write about. Usually I just write about myself, things that I’m going through, or people I’m angry at.”
The set list alternated singles from its earlier psychedelic pop albums and the bass-heavy, R&B-influenced dance tracks of “Fragrant World” – but nearly every song was tweaked, whether in performance and delivery or via heavy effects, to sound different from the studio albums.
“We’re always collaborating on the production side of things,” Wilder continued, “like: ‘oh, this song or this chord progression is a little boring, let’s try and change it up.’ Maybe we’ll keep the same words, but let’s make it a little weirder.”
During the show, Keating lurched energetically around stage, contorting to the rhythm while he split time between a microphone mounted on stage and his table of samplers. Between songs, Keating joked with the crowd about the elections, often yelling backstage for assistant, Nick, for updates. Keating told the crowd that while normally it’s “not cool to be on your phones, tonight I’ll understand.”
Halfway through, Tuton announced to the crowd that Elizabeth Warren had won the Senate race, and the crowd cheered. Closing with another fan favorite, “Ambling Alp,” Yeasayer decamped while the audience screamed themselves hoarse for an encore, chanting and stomping. One fan remarked that they’re probably checking election results before coming back out.
And right he was – when Yeasayer returned, Keating announced that Question 2 passed and the crowd erupted again. Yeasayer treated fans to an extended four song encore, with Wilder breaking out an electric thumb piano for the bridge of “Devil and the Deed.”
When asked about what’s next for Yeasayer, Wilder said, “I dunno! It’d be really exciting for us to do the score to a movie, but non-traditionally. I always liked the idea of an artist who is allowed to run wild with his emotional interpretation of what sounds would accompany a movie’s visuals. I think doing a movie soundtrack is awesome but it’s also kinda restrictive in, in the traditional sense.”
Closing with the almost bipolar drones of Folk Hero Shtick, Yeasayer left its fans smiling and satisfied, entertained and exhilarated, showing the band knows not only how to craft a brilliantly experimental studio album, but also how to deliver a visually and sonically stunning live performance.
Tom Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.