Photo by Dan Martensen
Over the last decade, New York trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs has established itself to be among the most consistently enjoyable indie rock acts. Led by the incomparable Karen O, the band’s dour-yet-singalongable sound has garnered the group three Grammy nominations, numerous television appearances and an open invitation to virtually any festival it cares to play. Fortunately, when Summerfest came a-calling, Yeah Yeah Yeahs said… yeah. Wednesday, during the Big Gig’s opening night, the Harley-Davidson stage headliner kicked off the festival in grand fashion with more than a dozen songs from the indie rockers’ full body of work.
As one of the handful of Summerfest headliners actually touring behind a new release, O and Co. were quick to showcase material from its fourth and most recent effort, Mosquito, which received a lukewarm reception critically. Any negative album reviews were quickly put to bed as the zebra cape-clad front woman and the rest of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs launched into an energetic and flawless swarm of Mosquito songs, starting with a rousing rendition of new single “Sacrilege,” along with “Slave” and “Under The Earth.”
From there, Yeah Yeah Yeahs dusted off some old favorites, but not before making their sole snafu of the evening – and even that went over well. “Alright Milwaukee! Tuesday night!” O bellowed, immediately catching her error. “Oh, s—t. What night is it? Wednesday night!” which incited a few chuckles from the army of Harley-Davidson Roadhouse attendees perched atop the bleachers and picnic tables. Now certain of the day, the charismatic songstress led the band into Show Your Bones standard “Gold Lion.”
After, O briefly exited the stage as a loop played and re-emerged sans zebra cape – instead donning a leather jacket studded with her initials “KO” to be appropriately costumed for It’s Blitz! rockers “Zero” and “Soft Shock.” Both inspired balloon bouncing by the crowd to match O’s hopping and smiley shredding and skin slapping by the rest of the band. “Cheated Hearts” included an interlude that found the bandleader passing the microphone down to the front row. As it moved down the line and back towards a waiting O at the opposite end of the stage, fans sang a high-pitched “ooo-ooo” line – with drastically different success rates.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs brought the show home with an uncharacteristically lively version of “Despair,” before satisfying patience show-goers with undisputed crown jewels of the band’s 10-year, four album catalog – the somber “Maps” and lively “Heads Will Roll.” Back when headliners were announced, this show stood out. Did Yeah Yeah Yeahs meet expectations? In a word: affirmative.