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Concert review: Yeasayer at Town Ballroom

blog by Ben Kirst  • 

I had long planned to see yesterday’s Yeasayer concert at Town Ballroom and, by sheer coincidence, I started reading Sheila Weller’s excellent Vanity Fair article “Suddenly That Summer,” a recounting of San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district in the late 1960s – specifically 1967, the so-called Summer of Love – earlier in the day. Her words came back to me as I watched the Brooklyn-based four-piece put on a magnificent display of sensory indulgence on a humid night in downtown Buffalo:

But the combination of this fantasy venue and the riffy, amateur music stoked abandon and in-group narcissism. And so psychedelic dancing, which would become the new dancing, was launched in an old-timey saloon, where one of the country’s first light shows threw liquid globs of color on the walls. Once they were back in San Francisco, the Family Dog couldn’t wait to replicate the experience. As Luria Castell Dickson says, “With LSD, we experienced what it took Tibetan monks 20 years to obtain, yet we got there in 20 minutes.”

These are the times when I am jealous of what our parents’ generation had. Not so much the drug aspect of that era—there is certainly no shortage of ways to bend your mind in 2012, and I’m not really interested in that, anyway—but more so the willingness to throw oneself into the moment. To be part of something bigger. To express that sense of belonging, and not just in the socially approved forums, but everywhere. And sometimes, maybe it would be nice to have an Owsley or a Kesey who could spike the punch and let all those inhibitions float away.

Yeasayer was great. The band put on a mighty show, drawing heavily from the soon-to-be-released new album, Fragrant World, while sprinkling in the two or three older, relatively popular songs like “Ambling Alp,” “O.N.E.” and “Madder Red.” Their sound appears to have matured dramatically—the new music sounds like Violator-era Depeche Mode pulled into the modern age through an filter of African tribal beats. Yeasayer has become what The Stone Roses should have been, and it’s exciting.

Quick note: Yeasayer is sponsoring an online scavenger hunt that allows fans to track down new songs via clues scattered throughout the Internet. Also: here is a new Yeasayer video.

My only concern—and this troubled me as I watched the show, and even now, three hours later, as I bang out a review for a show where I was introduced to almost entirely new material—was the…I don’t even know how to describe it—the atmosphere. This is a band that makes you want to dance. And sure, there was a lot of swaying, a lot of head-nodding, a lot of the kind of rhythmic knee-bouncing that you see at shows—but not a lot of legitimate, inhibitions-be-damned, embrace-the-moment dancing. I certainly wasn’t.

That’s problematic, and I don’t think it’s just me. Buffalo feels, at times, like it’s on the verge of something big within its youth culture. There’s an energy. There’s an interest and a community that seems like it is legitimately crackling.

What would be fantastic, however, is to see that energy manifest itself more deeply into the scene. Let shows become events. Let the walls that keep us from throwing ourselves into the moment come down.

In her Vanity Fair article, Weller describes the scene in Northern California as that legendary youth movement exploded:

Even the usually gimlet-eyed Tom Wolfe, whose The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was a dispatch from that front, recently admitted having “felt like I had been in on something very spiritual” during his “all-night sessions with Kesey and the Pranksters.

I want that here. Don’t you?

So how does it happen?

TAGGED: concert review, live performances, town ballroom, yeasayer

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  1. Josh Kruk August 02, 2012 @ 9:33am

    Depends on the show.  The crowd was electric at Atmoshphere and Childish Gambino.  You could see it in the artists’ faces how surprised and fulfilled they were with the experience.  Same with Fitz and The Tantrums at the harbor even.  People were into it in their own way.  In 2012 people will look at their phones during shows and may not move around as much.  Doesn’t mean the enthusiasm isn’t there.  Feels dangerous to pine for a past we only know about through stories.

    Josh Kruk's avatar
  2. Ben Kirst August 02, 2012 @ 11:11am

    I guess my argument, Josh, would be that isn’t there something missing from the experience when we’ve become so solipsistic that we can no longer appreciate group events as a group? And believe me, I am not one of these guys who think social media and mobile technology are ruining the world—I think they’re freaking awesome and often enhance the experience.  And I don’t think that I pine for “olden times”—Weller’s article makes it pretty clear that drugs, VD and false expectations were major problems in H-A that are often overlooked by the peace/love branding—I think it’s more the desire for a sense of tangible community consciousness, if that makes sense.

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  3. Ellen. ☯ August 02, 2012 @ 5:54pm

    I don’t know about you, but I was dancing my ass off