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WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

Concerts by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs often have a theatrical quality to them, from Karen O’s big stage presence to designer Christian Joy’s sumptuous costumes. So it’s no wonder the beer-spitting frontwoman has written her very first “psycho opera” Stop the Virgens. To help her out, she’s enlisted a small army of super talents, including actress Lili Taylor, director Adam Rapp, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler of the Raconteurs, and, of course, YYYs bandmates Nick Zinner and Brian Chase and Christian Joy on costume design. Co-created with design director K.K. Barrett (whose credits include the films of Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze), Ms. O’s opera debut is presented by The Creators Project, which will host a weekend-long arts festival in DUMBO on October 15 and 16, featuring works by David Bowie, among others.

Mondays-Sundays. Starts: Oct. 12. Continues through Oct. 22, 2011

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SWEET 16

Cinema 16 was formerly a popular avant-garde film society in the late 1940s; now it’s the name of artist Molly Surno’s extremely cool film series, which brings together an eclectic mix of musicians to score vintage and contemporary experimental films. Tonight, check out six films (including Andy Warhol’s Salvador Dalí screen test) with music composed by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner and Brian Chase, Oneida’s Shahin Motia, and MV Carbon. This evening’s program is inspired by the Met’s new exhibit “Guitar Heroes.”

Fri., June 3, 7 p.m., 2011

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BOWLING FOR DUB

Only Brooklyn Bowl possesses such fearlessness in the face of puns (and, fine, the pins) to pull off Festival of Strikes, a holy benefit for JDub Records. And your attention will be 7-10 split (zing!) between the action on the alleys and the solid entertainment lineup: comedian MC Eugene Mirman, arcane and arresting Spanish indie rockers DeLeon, and local world/roots mega-collective the Sway Machinery (guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood of Balkan Beat Box and Brian Chase of Yeah Yeah Yeahs are members). Mazel tov.

Tue., Nov. 30, 8 p.m., 2010

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Man Forever

The elevator pitch for Man Forever, the awesome new project by Oneida brah Kid Millions: drums. You know, like the Boredoms (with whom Millions gigs regularly). Or the Grateful Dead, who used to have a segment of their shows that tape traders simply labeled “drumz” (except with Sightings’ Richard Hoffman adding a layer of “space”). Or maybe just some classic, manic, free jazz sesh. The Showpaper benefit kicks off a tour featuring Millions’ drum comrades, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Brian Chase and Oneida’s Shain Motia. With W.H.I.T.E., SPREAD-RAH, and Hunters.

Fri., June 11, 8 p.m., 2010

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THEY’RE NO ZEROES

Seeing these downtown-dive denizens onstage at Radio City may seem fish-out-of-watery. (Best way to get Budweiser out of red velvet, anyone?) Nonetheless, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ uptown move is a promotion entirely justified by the big-room theatrics of this spring’s terrific It’s Blitz!, on which Nick Zinner trades his guitar for a synth, Karen O sings more emotionally than she ever has, and Brian Chase drives the sleek electro-rock grooves like he’s auditioning to be in Chic. The hallmark of any Yeah Yeah Yeahs show has historically been its promise of catharsis through chaos; you’ll leave sweatier than you arrived, but more contentedly, too. The new songs are knottier and more complicated than the band’s old ones, and therefore offer less release. If you think that spells concession, pay attention tonight.

Wed., Sept. 23, 8 p.m., 2009

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LOUD AND PROUD

Though the audience at Madonna’s recent Bucharest concert may have booed her for speaking out against the discrimination of Eastern Europe’s gypsies, we expect only cheers for the musicians at this fifth anniversary of the NY Gypsy Festival, which hosts everything from gypsy jazz musicians to gypsy punks. It kicks off tonight with a double header of gypsy and brass music by Zlatne Uste and Luminescent Orchestrii at the Hungarian House. Then, tomorrow is the not-to-be-missed Gypsy Boat Party aboard the Clipper City Tall Ship, featuring the lively sounds of Sway Machinery, which features drummer Brian Chase of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Anchors away!

Sept. 11-26, 2009

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The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Bowery Ballroom Blitz

In July 2007, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman, capping the night with “Down Boy,” from their then-current EP, Is Is. “Down Boy” is a dark, sultry song, and the band’s singer, Karen O, swayed in place with odd, theatrical movements, unable to keep a lipsticked grin from breaking across her face. When the band finished, Letterman took the stage to thank them, gave Karen O’s hand a courtly kiss, kept hold of it throughout his sign-off, and, as the credits rolled, gazed at her as if about to offer to carry her books.

Karen O(rzolek) is, of course, not the first rock star to be crushed on so intensely, but infatuation informed and sometimes devoured the critical reaction to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in their early years. Any rock band with a chick in it, let alone a chick with Orzolek’s theatricality and NYC-trashy sense of sex—in 2002, majorly hyped, the YYYs were nevertheless more famous for the beer baths she took onstage than for the 13-minute self-titled EP that was then their only recording—is going to have trouble escaping the nominative ghetto of Chicks Who Rock.

This wasn’t the band’s only extramusical problem. From the first sickly chord of their bad-sex anthem “Bang!” to more than half of 2003’s debut full-length Fever to Tell, the YYYs were saddled with a concept: Their songs were jolts of the kind of tinny, fuzzy, raucous New York City smut that was, at the time, Saving Rock and Roll (Again), and their live show was the best hypersexualized theater of the year. But as good as the YYYs were at channeling the hedonism of their hometown forebears, they were, back then, a kind of very advanced novelty band, writing and playing very advanced novelty songs—that is, songs that came loaded with nostalgia for when rock ‘n’ roll really was sleazy and frightening, back before “Sleazy and Frightening” was just one of the lifestyle sets advertised on television.

For a while, the trio’s peak was “Maps,” the chiming track toward the end of Fever to Tell, wherein Karen O suddenly dropped the ravaging-colossus act, looked you straight in the ear, and sang, “They don’t love you like I love you” 13 times. (Orzolek has always written mantras: She turned her first chorus—”As a fuck, son, you suck”—into an incantation.) “Maps” was melancholy and obsessive, a comedown, the sound of a party girl walking home. It was a great song. There was a video. Karen O cried in it. It was successful. I once saw it playing on a TV in an American Eagle outlet.

The trouble was finding a voice to encompass both the parties and the comedowns. The YYYs struggled with this for awhile; this week, they succeed. Their 2006 follow-up, the messy, lovely Show Your Bones, charged into the problem and fell short of being a great album, but It’s Blitz!, their third LP, finds a fusion between the self-conscious rock ‘n’ roll bravado of “Bang!” and the visceral melancholy of “Maps”—between Karen O as frightening, sexy put-on artist and Karen O as vulnerable, aching city girl. Both those personas are clichés, which is why Blitz‘s mix—a stew of the scary and the funny and the cocky and the sad—improves on Show Your Bones, which laid those poses out like vitamins to be swallowed in order.

I’m gonna try and get at this record’s achievement the long way. In the video for the Blitz single “Zero,” Karen O dolls herself up for a show that doesn’t happen. Instead, she and her bandmates wander playfully through empty San Francisco streets, doing standard music-video things—dancing on cars, pushing each other around in shopping carts, suddenly performing (with all their gear) in deserted convenience stores, etc.—a context in which Karen O’s makeup and snakeskin boots and studded leather jacket with “KO” on the back look less awe-inspiring and Olympian than just silly. They also look really cool—cool in a human way that has no place on Olympus. Thus, what might be a gimmick becomes a public game of dress-up, the kind you play when you’re confident and just a little proud.

All this matters because this is how the YYYs perform: with confidence, pride, playfulness, and originality. Nick Zinner and Brian Chase are as indebted to their influences as Orzolek, as fond of aping them, and as capable of transcending them. Zinner’s guitar, in 2002 an instrument of tinny, sawing New York Dolls bliss, has, over the years, been artfully subtracted, so that now it might appear only as an insistent ghost on “Little Shadow” or “Skeletons”; Chase’s drums are always restless, curious things, not so much leading the songs as turning every stone inside them. Blitz is heavier with synths than its predecessors: They burble above the stomp of “Zero,” pulse gently within the loose “Soft Shock,” and go chirpy but ominous (like an eight-bit Nintendo dungeon) for “Dragon Queen.” Rarely (maybe in “Zero,” whose synths are hard to fight) do the musicians vanish beneath their new lacquer, and never, even as they cede her the center, are Zinner and Chase reduced to Karen O’s backup.

Instead, all three members of this band achieve something tricky: They use sonics to sculpt personality. Zinner and Chase are always, somewhere, audible, and the tangible, charismatic, joyfully muddled woman at the center of It’s Blitz! isn’t revealed to us through the record’s lyrics, which are as gnomic as ever, but through attitudes, tones, put-on sneers, and audible grins. It’s the delight she takes in briefly fronting a menacing dance-punk outfit on “Heads Will Roll”; the meditative bliss with which she and her bandmates unveil the tonescape “Skeletons” (in which Chase does something close to a five-minute drumroll); and, best of all, the delicate delivery of this record’s best mantra—the moment on “Hysteric” when Karen O, swaying inside the stutter of Chase’s drums, repeatedly coos, “You suddenly complete me.” In moments like that, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs define themselves, not by shedding affectations, but by combining them. I’m as smitten as Letterman.

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Batgirl Returns

Boo, Internet. You are a Karen O costume spoiler. When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ KO turned up at Webster Hall last Tuesday night looking like a sex-dungeon Batgirl, resplendent in a shiny plastic onesie and bondage leggings, the first thought-bubble over your narrator’s head was: Aw, she just wore that three days ago at Lollapalooza! Ack.

What the Web didn’t spoil, thank god.blogspot.com, is the exuberant magnificence of seeing her in person. This particular show was the first time the triple-Ys had played their hometown since releasing the five-song Is Is last month. Six years after the band’s debut EP, Karen O remains a bad-ass rock creature revered for aerial spitting and microphone-fellating—perhaps the only woman in a decade of zeroes now able to rock a hat-scalped tinsel Cousin It wig and make a roomful of dedicated assholes swoon. And so, when she giddily grinned during the Spider-Man 3–soundtracked opener “Sealings,” all us jaded jerks grinned along. When alarmingly long-haired drummer Brian Chase, Scissorhanded guitarist Nick Zinner, and second-string six-stringer Imaad Wasif all stepped back to let her morph the glib bridge of “Art Star” into a beastly death-metal ROOOOOOOOAAR, everybody understood why. And when Karen mule-kicked an invisible ass to the fugitive pogo-stomp of “Honeybear,” we all secretly wished we owned that imaginary posterior.

Gotta come clean, though. I saw the YYYs at one of those two 100-person Glasslands Gallery shows where Is Is‘s night- vision videos were filmed, so my Webster experience was a little different than, say, the 1,399 of you collapsing into paroxysms of joy every time Karen O sucked her mic head. Glasslands was the live-show equivalent of having dinner with the Virgin Mary; Webster, for me, was more like seeing Her Face on a grilled-cheese sandwich. It was still awe-inspiring, humbling, and moving as all hell, but I’d already seen it on the Internet.

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Loving the Skin They’re In

Maybe they were tired of being introduced as the band whose singer pours beer on herself and gives good upskirt, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—dynamite Napoleon of guitar Nick Zinner, conservatory geek Brian Chase, Karen O-No-You-Didn’t—decided another round of whirligig club-bangers would amount to pogoing in place. Whatever it might have to do with breakups, breakdowns, L.A., or the long and lonesome highway east of Omaha, Show Your Bones makes one thing perfectly clear: There’s something behind those skull-and-crossbones panties. If you’re seeking sweat and sex spangled with disco hi-hat, the song to download is “Standing in the Way of Control” by that other bass-less lady-led trio, Gossip.

No, local slump-spotters, this isn’t the Yeahs’ Room on Fire. Far from it. The first full-length, Fever to Tell, lined up show-tooled thunderclaps. “Maps,” its hit ballad, wasn’t this comfortable in its skin—the pounded beat and itchy Zinnerisms were barely contained. In this surefooted—and still pleasure-centered—leap, the crew rises above the storm clouds, laying them bare. The Yeahs have circled back, in some small way, to their beginnings, when Nick and Karen played together with an acoustic guitar. Until now their sound has been breakthrough, the way Castro contends that the Revolution is ongoing. Paradoxically, it is: He fights to maintain power. And the Yeahs could’ve kept erupting. Instead, they’ve entered a rewarding new paradox: turning those eruptions inside out.

Karen’s crypto-candid lyrics, inevitable but not therefore unmoving day-after assessments, pile on the contradictions: “Lies and love”; “We’re just another part of you”; “It’s cold under the blanket”; “Sleep with the light on”; “Run away, you want it”; “Good things happen in bad towns.” But she’s grasping at something softer, something larger. In “The Sweets,” a flawlessly executed reconstruction of a ramshackle acoustic reverie, she muses on a spark, telescoping the (transformative? biblical?) possibilities: “If we meet again, meet and meet and meet and meet again.” “Cheated Hearts” chimes as if it caught an emo dart in the neck, but the band’s adrenaline spikes partway through, wiping away Karen’s ambivalence: “Sometimes I think that I’m bigger than the sound,” she chants, whipping her voice around until a frenzied Zinner barrels in sounding like nothing so much as an extension of the singer, and an affirmation of the band.

The secret is that they’re all sound, dissociated from convention: jigsaw Chase, shape-shift Zinner, sweet spazz O. And though they’re subdued through much of this album, they’re as elastic as always. Rubber bands hold things together as well as they careen across the room. Karen takes the most liberties here, letting off her lyrics in wisps, shouts, asides, dull roars—anything outside the traditional range, outside the space a singer would usually inhabit and inflect. (The space where, say, Gossip’s Beth Ditto has so fruitfully grown.) She dances over the songs in a cutting, nasal voice that is impossible to ignore but easy to like—it sounds, in its weird way, completely natural. Her tentative murmur on “Maps” has given way to an energy-packed tone. Ballad shapes, Karen now realizes, call for no one timbre.

Zinner and Chase, as always, are right there with her. The most fiery track here, rockabilly reduction “Mysteries,” finds Karen lazily slathering herself over the double-time jump—proof that their chemistry has zoomed past the exploding lab stage. At their most buttery—Beck-like “Gold Lion,” meticulous build-to-noise “Way Out”—the Yeahs pop like Jiffy. At their most melodramatic—vintage indie yelp “Warrior”—they sound like a sweet ’90s memory. And then there are the songs nobody else could come up with, not even the Yeahs of last album: “Phenomena,” the most rap-savvy rock song ever to eschew rhymes, and “Honeybear,” a multi-part soundtrack to somersaults. And so we meet again, meet and meet and meet and meet again.

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No No No Wave

The Seconds just can’t make time for each other. Drummer Brian Chase juggles pop superstardom in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and playing with avant-garde artists Ikue Mori and Tyondai Braxton. Singer and guitarist Zach Lehrhoff tours the globe in the reconfigured-as-neo-industrial-noise duo Ex Models. And bassist Jeannie Kwon helps engineering firm DMJM Harris improve civic transportation while earning her master’s in public administration at NYU.

But don’t refer to the notoriously rare band as a “side project,” lest you enjoy rubbing salt on open wounds. “We would like to devote more time but it’s tough,” explains Chase. “This band is a big part our lives. It’s definitely frustrating.”

Sympathetic fans can look forward to Kratitude (5 Rue Christine Records). A roiling cacophony of drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, the Seconds’ sophomore full-length transmutes its elements into a virulent and unholy strain of no wave that’s a quantum leap forward from the band’s catchier debut, Y. Moreover it’s a rock album—albeit a twisted one—and therefore a relief from the city’s preponderance of guitar-looping, knob-twisting improv noise bands.

Largely conceived by Chase, Kratitude exhibits his minimalism obsession. “It’s the most direct form of communication,” he explains. “Music feels purposeful when no extraneous ideas interfere.” The Seconds’ new fare establishes single motifs and perforates them with scrambled-reception guitar playing, muscular bass lines, monotone chants, and atonal yelps over erratic tempos.

“Moving,” for instance, begins as portentous clatter and explodes as a turbid mixture of drums and guitars. Its hypnotic mantra “Moving slowly/Moving faster” contrasts Chase’s deadpan vocals against Lehrhoff’s paroxysm of cackles befitting a hyena with Tourette’s. Meanwhile Kwon’s petulant tantrums place her squarely in this playpen of misfits. In “Sleeping,” Lehrhoff jaggedly plucks a lullaby melody over cascading vocals while Chase goes into a tribal frenzy. And Kwon sounds positively grief stricken and drunk on “Dedicatedtotheoneeye,” the creepiest Shirelles cover ever.

The Seconds recorded Kratitude at their rehearsal space in Williamsburg’s industrial park section. 5RC, which released Y, originally declined to issue a follow up because they felt the band couldn’t properly tour behind it. Chase & Co. sent 5RC a copy anyway. The Shirelles cover must have struck a chord. “They changed their minds,” says Chase.