March 14, 2013


Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O Plays Preacher at SXSW

Tim Mosenfelder
Tim Mosenfelder

Yeah Yeah Yeahs looked backward and forward during their hour-long South by Southwest set Wednesday night at Stubb's. The trio (augmented by guitarist David Pajo), drew equally from their four LPs and 2001 eponymous debut, including four new songs from their upcoming new album Mosquito.

Check out Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more in our SXSW Photo Gallery

The newly platinum-haired Karen O remains a messianic figure, swaying, jumping and shaking like it's her last-ever show. When O shouted "And I plead and I pray" during new song "Sacrilege," the singer shook and waved her hands like an inspired preacher riling the congregation, begging them to follow her. It was the first time the group had performed the song live and will easily stand as a new live staple.

The three remaining new songs—"Under the Earth," "Subway" and the title track—understandably were slightly less received than old favorites "Gold Lion," "Maps" and "Zero," though given the nature of South by Southwest, it's difficult to discern the genuine fans from the curious, casual onlookers.

And while the perfect weather added to any fan's enjoyment, outside shows are notoriously tricky for those running the soundboard. Karen O is one of the most dominant female voices in rock, so it's a shame that her vocals, for most of the night, were buried in the mix, rendering her difficult to decipher from up close and virtually incomprehensible from afar.

O made the most of it, though, forsaking clear vocals for unbridled showmanship. During "Cheated Hearts," the singer twirled her mic over head a la Roger Daltrey before pouring water over her head. For set closer "Heads Will Roll," O jumped around like 60,000 people were watching, further enshrining herself as the heir apparent—or an heir apparent—to Iggy Pop's throne.

Tonight's show proved that O occupies a singular place in rock, blending the fashion and theatricality of Lady Gaga with the brashness and don't-give-a-f-ck attitude of your favorite '70s punk star. It's calculated rebellion pulled off perfectly.

Ten years ago, the frontwoman fell headfirst off the stage, hitting her head on a guardrail and having a monitor collapse onto her head. She recently told Billboard, "It was a pivotal moment for me. My insanity onstage had been escalating and the more I hurt myself, the more the crowd enjoyed it. I was like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. After that, I basically had to clean up and figure out a way to entertain without that grotesque spectacle of recklessness."

No recklessness was seen tonight; just a singer attempting—and succeeding—to adapt a punk ethos to an ever-growing fanbase.

Watch the full set below:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs Setlist

Cold Light 
Under the Earth 
Art Star 
Gold Lion 
Cheated Hearts 
Miles Away 
Heads Will Roll