Yeah Yeah Yeahs Get the Last Laugh at Their 10th Anniversary Show

by “David Shapiro”


i walk from the Bedford L stop to the venue called Secret Project Robot in the rain to go see the 10 Year Anniversary Yeah Yeah Yeahs show and by the time i get to the venue i’m soaked and i meet my friend who works for Todd P, the promoter who is putting on the show, outside the venue and i say “hi” and wipe my glasses off with my shirt and my friend says “hey, okay, let me find Todd now and he’ll get us in, we’re a little late”

so right now Yeah Yeah Yeahs are on Interscope Records and play venues twelve times the size of this venue when they come to new york. yesterday Todd P sent out a mass e-mail at 9:08 a.m. to announce the show, and the only way to get tickets was to pick them up at the venue last night at 6:00 p.m., and my friend said that so many people came to get tickets that more than half of the people on line to get tickets were turned away. she also said the venue has a capacity of maybe 300 people and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs put about 100 people on their guest list

so we walk around outside the venue for a minute and my friend spots Todd P and she walks over to him and asks him if we can go in and he says “well, no, you’re not on the guest list” and then he looks at me and says “and even if you were, you wouldn’t have a plus one” and my friend is disappointed and she says something to Todd that i can’t hear and then he walks away and she turns to me and says “okay whatever, this kid i know is guarding the door in the back, maybe he’ll let us sneak in”

so we walk around to the back of the venue and there is a kid in thick black glasses and long hair and a white v-neck shirt. he is sitting on a high chair next to the back entrance and my friend walks up to him and says “hey how’s it going?” and he says “it’s cool, just doing my shitty-ass job” and he fixes his hair a little and continues “you know, just guarding the door, bein’ a dick door guy, how’s it going with you?” and fixes his hair again and she tells him how it’s going

from where we are standing we can see through the back door and into the crowd at the venue and we talk about Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the kid guarding the door rolls his eyes as he says something about Karen O and looks extra disdainful when he mentions that Karen O is in her dressing room, the implication i guess is that this is a random shithole venue in brooklyn, not Terminal 5 or wherever they play now, and using a dressing room is a princessey thing to do. the kid at the door says some more cynical stuff about Yeah Yeah Yeahs, i guess because Yeah Yeah Yeahs were a cool band 7 years ago which precludes them from being a cool band now

there seems to be a general understanding among the staff that i overheard talking outside the venue, and the kid at the door, that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have come to a shithole venue in brooklyn for their tenth anniversary to reclaim their cred because now they are on Interscope and MTV and maybe miss the days when they were relevant and played venues like this every night. there is also sort of a mutual understanding among the staff that this cred-reclamation is transparent, and the kid at the door does not want to be a part of it but a job is a job. the kid at the door fixes his hair again

a girl who is alone walks up to us, thinking that where we are standing is the entrance, and the kid guarding the door looks at her and says, really loud and clearly, “THE DOOR IS AROUND THE CORNER AT THE FRONT OF THE VENUE. GO AROUND TO THE FRONT OF THE BUILDING AND GO IN THE DOOR” and she stands there looking dumbfounded at his hostility and then embarrassed and walks away and the kid at the door fixes his hair again and mentions that he likes being a dick, ironically i guess, and adjusts his glasses. my friend tells me and the kid guarding the door about the art show that she is setting up and i ask if she likes the show and she says “it’s okay — at the opening, there’s a girl who’s gonna read some “fuck you, dad” thing and then jump into a giant plushie, so that should be fun” and she smiles a little

then a woman comes up to us and says “you guys have to leave, we can’t really have people BOTHERING people around here” and gestures towards the kid guarding the door who we are bothering, so me and my friend leave and we spot Todd P again and my friend asks Todd if we can go in again and Todd says “no” again and my friend looks really upset and storms off and walks down the block and i am standing there by myself getting drizzled on and thinking about how there’s no way i’m gonna be able to write about this Yeah Yeah Yeahs show now that i can’t get into it, and then Todd calls out to her and she walks back to him and they work out some agreement i guess, and then my friend beckons to me, and i walk over to her and Todd P leads us around the building to a side of it where no one is standing

and he takes out a set of keys and opens a big door and leads us inside, and we stand in a hallway and he gives us instructions about how to surreptitiously enter the venue. he looks at us sternly and says something almost exactly like, “okay the fact that they already saw me not letting you in outside is bad, so if they see you inside they’re gonna think something is up and i am going to get in trouble with the venue, which is not something i want. so you need to ACT NONCHALANT. don’t talk to anybody when you first walk in, just walk into the crowd and ACT NONCHALANT, okay?” and we both nod and i whisper “thank you” and he pulls open a door and we walk out into the crowd of the Todd P Yeah Yeah Yeahs tenth anniversary show

we look around at the crowd, which is mostly nervous high school kids, girls wearing t-shirts and backpacks, and thirtysomethings, and my friend notes that this is “a pretty dork-studded event” and then she whispers “except that one of the girls from vivian girls is standing next to us”

soon Yeah Yeah Yeahs get on stage and Karen O is draped in a fabric that looks like it is covered in enlarged barcodes and she is wearing a gas mask and she holds the microphone up like a torch and pulls the mask off and brings the microphone down to her mouth and yelps into it, and then she grabs a bottle of Poland Spring and drinks some and cocks her head back and then spits the water up into the air, which is the same thing i watched her do on stage at a festival at Jones Beach in 2003 and the other two times i’ve seen them too, and i can only assume she’s done it several hundred or thousand other times too

and knowing that Karen O will spit water up into the air regardless of her mood disarms the thrill of its spontaneity. i think it is supposed to seem like Karen O spits water up into the air because she just FEELS LIKE IT because she’s just that badass, and staying adequately hydrated is not a concern to a punk art star of her stature, but if she does it every night it is part of an act, which feels disingenuous given the ostensibly spontaneous free-spirited rebelliousness of spitting water up into the air

then they play their first song which is called Rich and was written at a time when she had no money and now, ten years and millions of records and tons of festivals and TV appearances and commercial song licenses they actually are rich and i wonder if the band ever discusses that or thinks about giving it a disclaimer on stage, although i don’t know how they’d do that, or if the irony is lost on them? probably not. this really is “rich”

they play a few more songs and Karen controls the crowd: gyrating, yelping, pointing, uttering. after a few minutes my heart is melted to the calculatedness of this whole thing because she is magnetic, and i remember why she is iconic and they are great in the first place. she has stripped her robe off to reveal a tight black dress and fishnets. brian chase, the drummer, sits at the back of the stage and looks like he got pulled out of a band that is not from new york, like maybe Guster, because he is smiling really hard and wearing loose clothing. nick zinner never smiles and sometimes he turns his back to the audience and fixes his hair between songs, and when he turns to face us and play guitar you can see a vein going up his arm from the wrist all the way to the shoulder, it looks like his skin is too tight on him

they play a few more songs and then Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio hurries past me and into the middle of the crowd, wearing a jacket and carrying a gym bag and a record i can’t identify, and bumps my arm. then forty-five seconds later he runs back out of the crowd, stashes his gym bag and record and jacket somewhere, and runs back into the crowd. Karen O dedicates the next song to Todd P, LCD Soundsystem, Metropolitan Avenue and some other stuff that i can’t make out and then they play Maps

Kyp Malone goes crazy for Maps, jumping up and down and shaking his head back and forth, clasping his hands together in front of his face and singing along and then outstretching his arm and putting his open palm up in the air as he yells THEY DON’T LOVE YOU LIKE I LOVE YOU. he puts his hand over his mouth, he claps in doubletime to the beat, he wipes sweat off his brow and pushes his glasses up on his nose and then touches his beard and keeps singing along. Kyp Malone doesn’t have to pretend he doesn’t like the hit single, he is ecstatic for Maps

then people pass out birthday candles during Black Tongue because it is Yeah Yeah Yeahs 10th birthday and my friend leans over and blows some high school kids’ candles out because i think that is the punkest way to handle this. an asian teenager who is standing in front of me and dressed in drag asks me if the plastic birthday cake that is strapped to the top of his head is blocking my view and i say “no you’re good” and connect my thumb and pointer finger to make an O and outstretch my other fingers and hold my hand up and smile

they play a few more, Karen O has the crowd on a leash, and then she says “it’s fucked up how sweet you guys are” and holds up a birthday candle and they play their last song, which is called Heads Will Roll, and then everyone files out and i see a high school kid who is sweaty from the show and he is sitting against a wall near the entrance, and as we walk past him he takes a picture of his face with a digital camera

my friend hugs Todd P on the way out and i shake his hand and thank him and then we walk back to the subway and talk about being a successful band in new york, and how when you are not yet successful and you play at shitholes and make no money, what you want to do is make money and have millions of people love you because it is not fun to toil in obscurity forever, and then once millions of people love you and you make a lot of money it must bother you that no matter how great your band still is and how hard you try every night, the coolest kids are not the ones who are coming out anymore, because they have found new cool bands or and are maybe rolling their eyes at you

and trying to get the cool kids to come back and see you because you’re playing at some random shithole in brooklyn again is like trying to get toothpaste back in the tube. but who cares because you are in wealthy and successful and in Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and in new york, wealth and fame are the ultimate last laughs, and to all the kids rolling their eyes at you, you still are “rich rich rich”, you know?

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