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Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Apollo, Manchester 01/05/13

09 May 2013, 15:36 | Written by Joe Goggins

The last time Yeah Yeah Yeahs played in Manchester, at this same venue back in December 2009, they were on their victory lap for It’s Blitz!: a sharp, glittery pop record suffused with nods to dance and disco. The assuredness with which they pulled off a such a sonic left turn would leave them with little room to surprise when it came to making their next album; they’re one of the few established indie rock bands for whom the release of a lead single that features the abrupt introduction of a gospel choir at its midpoint wouldn’t be immediately considered a worryingly indulgent development.

I imagine the venue – a beautiful old, converted art deco cinema – is far more suited to a live show as theatrical as tonight’s than the academies the band are likely to frequent elsewhere (although it has, tragically, been blighted by the affliction of O2 sponsorship). ’Sacrilege’ proves a fitting opener; the aforementioned choir are present only in recorded form, contrary to the slew of live TV performances on which they joined the band onstage. Their absence dampens the spectacle a little, sure, but Karen O is such an irresistibly compelling frontwoman that the aesthetic side of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs live show doesn’t really need enhancing in the first place.

The setlist lands firmly in retrospective territory, with cuts from new record Mosquito used for punctuation rather than backbone. Material from debut full-length Fever to Tell remains the band’s most potent in a live setting; ‘Black Tongue’ is O at her sassiest, with menacing guitar work from Nick Zinner simmering away in the background, whilst ‘Y Control’ is their piece-de-resistance, with an improbable, but startlingly effective marriage between atypically restrained, emotive vocals and an urgent, looped riff that blares like an air raid siren for the grunge generation.

Elsewhere, the big-hitting likes of ‘Phenomena’, ‘Gold Lion’ and ‘Zero’ are all present and correct; the question of whether or not they’re the strongest efforts from the releases they’re plucked from fades into irrelevance when you realise that, really, the songs are merely vehicles for the deliverance of O’s stage persona. From Lux Interior-inspired mic-swallowing on vintage cut ‘Art Star’ to treating the Apollo boards as a personal dancefloor at a uniquely debauched disco on ‘Heads Will Roll’, she exudes the kind of irrepressible charisma that remains one of the current alternative scene’s rarest commodities.

The set’s softer moments only serve as confirmation that O is capable of covering all bases; the criminally-underrated ‘Soft Shock’, a It’s Blitz! highlight, is delivered with impressive finesse, whilst ‘Maps’ – presented tonight in its original form, as opposed to the recently-favoured acoustic version – remains this century’s most devastating love song. ‘Subway’ is one of Mosquito‘s finest offerings, but its delicate nature was always likely to fall foul of a talkative crowd, and it sadly isn’t afforded the hush necessary to create a suitable atmosphere.

In fact, the reception for the new tracks tonight proves universally tepid; with the album only two weeks old, it’s difficult to ascertain whether it’s indifference or unfamiliarity that’s responsible – ‘Under the Earth’ is certainly underwhelming, but ‘Despair’, a masterfully crafted slow-burner, is surely destined for live-stapledom. The only unequivocal disappointment is the running time; the band were assigned a ninety-minute slot, but arrive fifteen late and still manage to finish early; the brutal truth is that there’s plenty of artists who charge less for tickets and have fewer songs to play than Yeah Yeah Yeahs that manage longer than an hour and a bit.

Regardless of any issues that the set’s duration might raise, there’s little ground for complaint when it comes to the evening’s entertainment value, especially once they’ve signed off in incendiary fashion with ‘Date with the Night’. Seeing Yeah Yeah Yeahs in 2013 not only involves bearing witness to indie rock’s most engaging performer – it also offers the opportunity to catch a genuinely-challenging rock band at somewhere close to the peak of their creative powers.

Photograph taken by Jason Williamson at I’ll Be Your Mirror.

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