Stages are funny things. A good performer steps onto a stage and, somewhere in midstep, changes into someone different. Or maybe a good performer makes the transition in priming for the show, during their sound check. Maybe they start adjusting their gait and intonation days before the big performance. Maybe I have a huge misconception of stages.
When half-Korean, half-Polish Karen Orzolek stepped onstage March 4 at the Troubadour in West Hollywood , she became Karen O., primal, off-kilter and altogether perversely magical. She is a sex symbol in her own right. What she lacks in Marilyn Monroe’s curves and film presence she makes up with garish and beautiful outfits, wonderfully bewildering stage antics and a voice suited for nursery rhymes, banshee howls and everything in between.
They kicked off the set with ‘Way Out’ from their upcoming album ‘Show Your Bones.’ It’s always an interesting dynamic to see bands play shows promoting an album that hasn’t come out yet, since they have to win over a crowd with material they have (usually) never heard. The new songs as a whole are less abrasive and raucous and more focused and fleshed out. That’s not to say that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have become Tegan & Sara; the music is still very much abrasive, but to a lesser extent in some cases.
Between songs, Karen would be seen sauntering around the stage from side to side, sometimes taking a swig of water or champagne only to swish it around in her mouth and spit it into the air above as mist. During songs, she would be hopping around like a fairy in her gold Power Rangers-esque dress while singing pitch-perfect, smiling like a child (possibly on amphetamines) at Disneyland.
Let’s not forget lanky and pale Nick Zinner on stage left with his howling and unorthodox guitar that laid the musical foundation for the songs. And Imaad Wasif on stage right, newcomer to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ world as a touring musician.
They sped through their initial 45-minute set with a flurry of new songs, standouts which included the stomping fun of ‘Honey Bear,’ the erotica of ‘Phenomena’ and the surprising beauty of ‘Cheated Hearts.’ A few ‘Fever to Tell’ songs fell in between the new album material as well. A perfect rendition of the endearing ‘Black Tongue’ occurred early in the set, with radio favorite ‘Maps’ coming in near the end. While Zinner laid down the tremolo loop that starts off the song, Karen began naming all the people she loved, seeing as how the song is, after all, ‘the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ love song’: ‘Nick, Brian, Imaad,’ and, in a high-pitched shriek, ‘all of us motherfuckers!’ They tore through the song with emotion and it was truly beautiful. This led into current radio single ‘Gold Lion,’ an anthemic, loud and ridiculously catchy romp with acoustic guitars and tambourines that prompted a large crowd sing-along. The band fled the stage after the end of the song, clearly intent on returning for the inevitable encore.
Sure enough, they came back full force and launched into another new track, the tribal-tinged ‘Warrior’ which featured Karen singing ‘Yeah, the river’s gonna wash all / Yeah, the river it spoke to me’ quite particularly poignantly.
At this point, I caught sight of a set list, according to which the show would go on for one more song, an early EP track titled ‘Our Time.’ A few people began to shout for another early EP song, the jarringly sweet ‘Art Star.’
After some onstage dialogue, Karen addressed the crowd: ‘We don’t usually take requests because