The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are the coolest band in the city right now. They’re so cool, a member of that other band that used to be the coolest band in the city (before they got all famous and stuff, you know?) wore their pin on Saturday Night Live in January. They’re so cool, this is, like, the 20th time this month this paper has written about them, and they’ve showed up in the pages of just about every other rock-related publication in America these past few weeks. Yeah, the barely year-old, Brooklyn-based trio are so cool, they act like they don’t even know it. At Brownie’s earlier this month, spiky-haired guitarist Nick Zinner, shy and polite as he worked the merch table, confessed to being somewhat overwhelmed and confused by all the hype. Up near the front, charismatic singer Karen O stood with a bunch of friends, boogying along to the opening bands with a drink in her hand like any other partyer out to have a good time.
Onstage, the unpretentious attitude, combined with O’s showmanship, made for a supercharged performance of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ no-wave garage punk. The club was stuffed to the gills with scenesters, rock journalists, and people in other local groups, and everybody seemed to know everybody else. Aware that they were among friends, the YYYs thus had license to get completely loose. Zinner and drummer Brian Chase chose to remain relatively stationary background figures, channeling all their energy into the music. A wise decision, given the star they have for a frontwoman.
As Zinner and Chase laid down the start-stop crunch of the opening song, O made her dramatic entrance. Wearing one black leather glove, a pointy hat, a ripped, magic-markered T-shirt, torn panty hose, and lace-up boots, she tried her hardest to play the part of cold-as-ice diva so popular among ’80s revivalists. It lasted about five seconds. Breaking out in a grin that would charm the pants off the dourest goth, the singer began swinging a bottle of beer over her head, dousing those closest to the stage. They responded by spraying her right back, and an on-again, off-again beer fight continued throughout the set. O shimmied, strutted, shook, and writhed about like the love child of Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop, her country-girl drawl rolling joyfully over her acerbic, lusty lyrics. The crowd shouted back just about every word to the selections from their self-titled EP, and by the end of the anthemic “Our Time,” O was locked in an embrace with three or four girls in front, all soaking wet, singing along into the microphone.
It was one of those nights when the electricity in the air is palpable. Apparently, such performances are standard for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on their home turf, where they rule the school. In March, they will head out on their first extended tour, and in April they’re going to Europe. This band’s on the edge of something, but whether that something is fame and fortune, tragedy, or obscurity remains to be seen.