There are rock bands, and then there are Rock Bands. It’s like the difference between an actor and a Movie Star: there are people who do their job, and then there are people who completely entrance while doing it. When Karen O. slinked onstage at First Avenue, with her face lit up by a pink neon mask, the category in which she belonged was clear: capital letters only.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs emerged in the post-rock early 2000s, but they were different from the other bands that came out back then: sure, they had the same garage-band feel as, say, The Vines, but they also had a commitment to creativity that the members of Jet could only dream of. Two albums and three trends later, it’s clear Yeah Yeah Yeahs were meant for greater things.
The band’s newest album It’s Blitz! consists almost entirely of lit fuses. Opening track “Zero” starts with an alarm clock buzz, followed by Karen O.’s purr, then everything explodes. This is also how Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Minneapolis show went, as the band quietly started the thumping “Heads Will Roll” before the song took on a volatile life of its own.
The show was easily one of the best Minneapolis concerts of the year, and while much credit is due to bassist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase, it was the magnificent Karen O. who kept the audience in the palm of her hand. She bounced and strutted around the stage like Mick Jagger, but was never out of breath, and she smiled from ear to ear as if she just won a contest. Highlights included “Date With The Night,” “Cheated Hearts,” and “Skeletons,” which reminded the audience that, while Yeah Yeah Yeahs know chaos, they can also craft a hell of a ballad.
Then, of course, there was “Maps,” the inescapable and inevitable hit that propelled Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the top of every imaginable list. Although they would be forgiven for being sick of the song, Karen O. treated it like the masterpiece it is, giving a brief introduction (“this is our love song”) followed by an understatedly gorgeous performance.
While most bands suffer in comparison to Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I felt rather bad for opener Grand Ole Party. Not only does the San Diego band specialize in the same pop-punk that Karen O. and co. have perfected, they are a trio – two men backing up a female singer with short dark hair. This isn’t to say Grand Ole Party ripped off Yeah Yeah Yeahs, rather that they were given an unfair deal, especially since they put on a good show.
Singer Kristin Gundred banged away on drums, steadily and propulsively, while guitarist John Paul Labno and bassist Michael Krechnyak provided ample support. The whole operation chugged along mightily, with plenty of hooks and stomping rock beats. At their best, Grand Ole Party resembled The Pretenders, Franz Ferdinand, and the Talking Heads – bands who likewise made whole canvases out of spare arrangements.
A particular highlight was “Redrum Heart,” which featured Gundred at her Chrissie Hynde-iest, and her bandmates at their most focused and concise. The song sounds like a B-side from pop-punk’s heyday, with a modern twist. This formula is especially apparent on their record Humanimals, which was produced by Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett. Grand Ole Party sounds better on record than they did at First Ave., where the band looked nervous and small – outsized, surely, by anticipation of Karen O.’s personality (not to mention the giant sphere, part of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ stage setup, hanging above their heads).
Grand Ole Party has been in the opening-band role for a while now, joining headliners Rilo Kiley and Rogue Wave in the past. At First Ave., the trio looked and sounded ready to be the main attraction for once, to be compared only to themselves.