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by Ali Hibbs on November 15, 2012


Yeasayer’s set Saturday night was a bit like an alien abduction (at least, the bits I recall of the latter). Ominous green lights bathed the stage as a robotic female voice said “good evening Clifton Park, good evening Albany,” inducing a bit of where-exactly-am-I? vertigo. Figures materialized to perform strange operations with unkown technologies, all the while backlit and known only in silhouette. Then, as communication with the visiting race seemed imminent, the figures returned the way they’d come leaving the audience enchanted yet perplexed that so little time could have passed during the procedings.

Alien angst: Chris Keating of Yeasayer. Photo by Julia Zave.

Yes, it was a short show—surprising for a band with three records worth of material, an international following and one of the most lavish and polished stage acts I’ve seen in recent memory. Yet, the Brooklyn quartet seemed to distill most of what they do really well down into this time-frame, mostly due to the surprisingly high quality of the deeper cuts they used to stitch together their fleet of album singles. “Henrietta,” one of the two singles from this summer’s Fragrant World, came early and served as apt representation of how the band has evolved since their start in 2007. As Yeasayer were originally categorized with other late-era freak-folk bands like Grizzly Bear, the song’s outro features spacey sing-along vocals about living forever, but only after a slick, synth-drenched opening, which is more representative of the band’s recent turn toward sci-fi utopian rock. No shortage of keyboard presets were used to achieve the effect.

Breakout hit “2080” followed shortly behind as a sort of Afropop counterpoint before pushing straight into the other of this year’s singles, “Longevity”—while keeping the theme of immortality alive. One reason Yeasayer haven’t become critical darlings, even while they’ve become blog heroes, is likely the ecclectic influences they traverse from track to track and the melodramatic vocals Chris Keating layers on top. The sound is extra-terrestrial in a slightly VHS, pink-lasers-and-mystic-orbs kind of way, without ever feeling campy. Their modus seems to be an at-all-costs defiance of expectations, cleaving a Middle Eastern guitar part or heavy dub bassline into what are essentially dancefloor anthems.

“Reagan’s Skeleton,” “O.N.E.” (with guitarist Anand Wilder on vocals) and set-closer “Ambling Alp” all displayed different configurations of this formula. And “Madder Red,” with its infectious singalong intro, defies logic that it didn’t become a bigger hit when it came out in 2010.

So maybe there’s a bit of frustration behind the band’s abbreviated set that they haven’t been taken more seriously. But if they’re phoning it in, it’s only in a quantitative way, because everything they delivered was flawless, from three-part harmonies to instrument transitions, to sequenced stage lighting.