Monday, March 8, 2004
The Grenada can hardly be mistaken for a classroom, but that's what The Yeah Yeah Yeah's turned it into Saturday night.
Touring in support of their debut album, "Fever To Tell," the art-punk trio from New York inadvertently gave opening act Ssion a lesson in sexuality, stage presence, performance and how to treat an audience.
Ssion (pronounced "shun") lacked in all of those areas during its set, though not for lack of trying. Actually, the three-piece from Kansas City might have been trying too hard.
Lead singer Cody Critcheloe - who did the "Fever To Tell" artwork - looked like he was trying to come across as a male equivalent to Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O, androgynously strutting about the stage in an attempt to work the crowd into a frenzy. Though a small portion of the audience did readily take to Critcheloe's posturing and low-fi proselytizing, most in the sold-out crowd seemed less than impressed. His two female counterparts - Taylor Painter-Wolfe and Shannon Michaels - also tried to use sexuality to draw the crowd into the performance, but had no more luck than Critcheloe.
Karen O and the rest of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs following such an unsuccessful attempt at sexuality was almost unfair. Entering the stage wearing a cat-like masquerade, Karen O immediately worked the crowd into a frenzy, prancing about and slinkily crawling on stage. While not as overtly sexy, drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner certainly did nothing to detract from that aspect of the set.
Another noticeable difference between the two acts was how they treated their music live. Ssion used prerecorded music, giving the trio the opportunity to act up however they wanted without having to worry about instruments. While that's part of Ssion's identity, the animal costumes, silly on-stage antics and typical art-school shtick detracted from, rather than enhanced, the group's music. The songs, especially "Opportunity Bless My Soul" were quite good, a mix of garage rock, punk and pop that indicated far more maturity than the show on stage. Focusing on the music rather than the showmanship likely would have created a more favorably memorable performance for most in attendance.
Given Karen O's goddess status in the indie-rock community, it wouldn't have been surprising for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to fall into the same trap. Fortunately, the group works so well together that it's hard to imagine Karen O's sexual energy and lyrics working as well without Zinner's dirty riffs and Chase's driving beats, especially on songs such as "Date With The Night" and "Black Tongue."
The final lesson taught by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was a course in fan interaction. Ssion tried to build its fan base by insulting the audience, calling them "pieces of shit" at one point, something that very few acts can get away with.
Karen O also taunted her fans, spitting water onto them and flipping them off, but the masked sexuality of those gestures mixed with the singer's iconic stature thrilled the audience rather than upsetting it. Karen O made sure to be kind to the crowd as well, reaching out to the front few rows a couple times and letting it sing the "go go go go go" chorus of "Cold Light."
While Ssion showed flashes of promise for the future, it was obvious that they still had quite a bit to learn from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, especially when the crowd's enthusiasm during "Porcelain" in the encore was so genuine and overwhelming that Karen O had to hold off from finishing the song for a few seconds.