Hundreds of miles away in Chicago, the able men of A&E were ending their Pitchfork odyssey with a powerful TV on the Radio set. Back in the humid, sub-Saharan hell of Minneapolis, Minnesota, I ventured to the Varsity Theater to embark on a three night marathon of some of indie-rock’s most compelling (Cold Cave), most respected (Thurston Moore) and — last night — most currently hyped (Yuck).
A sibling to Yuck in the Fat Possum records family, extraterrestrial Portlandian rockers Unknown Mortal Orchestra took to the stage first … in complete and utter darkness. The lights stayed off throughout the entire set providing, as it were, much hilarity and bewilderment throughout the crowd (“Is there a band up there?”). But it really didn’t matter that you couldn’t see the human beings responsible for producing the walls of distorted noise radiating from the stage. It was enough and additionally fitting enough metaphorically for a band that popped up out of nowhere with the single “Ffunny Ffriends” in 2010. Their music centered upon, well, a lot. There were dramatic pop guitar solos; there were funky blues hooks and vocals; there were lavish outros. It was a forty-minute shred fest that spanned many schools of influence (e.g. blues, psych-rock, garage rock). And, though cloaked in mystery, it kept the audience as spirited as ever. Kudos on the intriguing shtick!
Though the men (and woman) of the hour were British buzz band Yuck. Buzz bands are what they are. But a lot of the time their live performances simply don’t live up to the hype (ahem, Best Coast). But in the case of Yuck, the verdict is in: they do indeed “walk the walk.” Dinosaur Jr. has been inextricably linked to Yuck, and the comparison is pretty apt. Boiled down: they’re a pop band that enjoys the use of feedback and distortion. And the group’s debut self-titled album is proof they know what they’re doing. With such limited repertoire, they played through nearly the entirety of “Yuck,” opening with an electric, elongated version of the single “Holing Out.” Their presence on the stage was interesting too. It was clear that they were very serious about what they were doing but it didn’t come off as apathetic like shoegaze and it surely didn’t create any distance with the audience. They were musicians on a mission and they were succeeding. As evidenced by the performance of one of their earliest singles, “Georgia,” the live performance actually did their vocals a favor. Feedback definitely works with their sound but, as with any use of effects, something of the genuine voice quality is inevitably lost. This was again highlighted when they played one of my personal favorites, “Suck,” near the end of their set. Enthusiasm remained high through it all. I don’t think anyone really wanted them to stop but of course, eventually, they had to, departing with an extended version of “Rubber.” Leaving the show, it was a relief that for once a group actually lived up to how they’ve been promoted. And it’s a safe bet that they’ll continue to please us in the future.