Yeah Yeah Yeahs review, Brixton Academy: The indie-rock stars are back, and not a moment too soon

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Coat of many colours: singer and scene queen Karen O (Redferns/Getty)
Coat of many colours: singer and scene queen Karen O (Redferns/Getty)

In a sci-fi neon temple, the high priestess of indie sleaze – dressed as every Quality Street at once – flings off her shiny rainbow cowl, spews water 10 feet into the air like a human geyser, raises high a microphone with a unicorn’s tail and yells, in a hearty rock-chick howl: “The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are back!”

And not a moment too soon. Ever since singer and future-fashion icon Karen O first skipped across a stage deep-throating a microphone while drunk on champagne, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been among the most brilliant, colourful and riveting live bands on the planet. These three frontrunners of New York’s 2001 indie-rock explosion return for their first London show in four years (their first album in nine years, Cool it Down, is on the way), just as their cultural currency reaches a resurgent peak. Lizzy Goodman’s celebrated oral history of NYC’s early Noughties rock community, Meet Me in the Bathroom, is set for a sister-piece documentary. The internet is abuzz with talk of “indie sleaze”, a new name for an old scene that’s being bestowed upon the next generation of lusty alt-poppers such as Wet Leg, Confidence Man, and Jockstrap. Two decades on, aged 43, Karen O is a cutting-edge scene queen once more.

Tonight, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs chronologically and stylistically ease themselves backwards into our affections. They open with their latest single “Spitting Off the Edge of the World”, a cataclysm of synthwave balladry that highlights their impact on – and affinity with – the most modern synthetic sounds (hence the guest appearance by Perfume Genius). Then Karen – spinning on the spot in her iridescent dress like a Pride march whirling dervish – slides breathlessly into “Cheated Hearts”, a glorious example of the band’s mid-Noughties evolution into an enthralling mesh of fury and fragility. Searing guitar riffs from Nick Zinner amid the song’s fluttering heartbeats, doe-eyed poetry make the chorus sound like Karen has wandered into the middle of a motorway in a lovestruck daze. This gives way to “Pin”, an urgent first-album clatter that suggests the Yeah Yeah Yeahs captured the crosstown rush and post-punk cool of NYC even better than The Strokes.

History re-established, the trio set about outlining the sophisticated territory they’ve been exploring for the past decade. “Under the Earth”, from 2013, is a primal, subterranean siren song accompanied by visuals of fire and flesh. The cinematic Motown of new track “Burning” is evidence that they have a rather funky Bond theme in them. Another new song, “Wolf”, hints at a bombastic gothic synth direction for Cool it Down, but retains the band’s core dynamic, where a romantic restraint and a barbed savagery perfectly co-exist – the sonic equivalent of a happy S&M marriage. It’s there in “Soft Shock”, the quintessential indie sleaze anthem “Gold Lion”, and even their signature song, “Maps”, one of the greatest love songs ever written. Karen’s heartfelt pleas for her partner to “wait, they don’t love you like I love you” stagger, tear-strewn, into the path of Zinner’s monster truck solo.

As giant inflatable eyeballs bounce around the crowd during rave pop anthem “Zero”, “Y Control” rattles past in a locomotive blast and Karen, now dressed like a post-apocalyptic Pan’s Person, finishes “Date With the Night” by smashing her microphone repeatedly into the stage in a torrent of confetti. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ comeback acts as a stark lesson for the laptop-pop generation. All the futuristic noises in the world are nothing without melody, excitement, punch and spectacle. As ever, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs live experience lives every bit up to the name.

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