Karen O. is heiress to a grand tradition of shaggy-dark-haired rock’n’roll queens. Siouxsie Sioux, Chrissie Hynde, Exene Cervenka and Joan Jett should all be thrilled that the torch is being carried so well. But Karen’s also her own girl, no question.
The first time I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they were opening for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. I went to see Jon Spencer but left with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs CD in my bag. Spencer knows from dark-haired rock’n’roll goddesses. He’s married to one, and he chose his opening act well that night. Maybe too well–a lot of people left after the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played.
This time, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had their own headlining show at the Gothic, and I showed up just in time to miss the opening bands (local act The Swayback and aptly named masked rockers The Locust?). Which means I can’t say if Karen and the boys chose as well as Jon Spencer had, but I also got to cut straight to the main event.
Drummer Brian Chase looks like the down-to-earth one, taller and more solidly built (not that that’s hard) than his bandmates, and plays like it too. Guitarist Nick Zinner is so skinny and pretty that he appears to exist entirely on cigarettes and alcohol, and bears a slight resemblance to Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands. His guitar playing, however, is hardly skinny, and fills out the sound so completely that you don’t notice the lack of bass. But except for the flash every now and then when Zinner takes pictures of the crowd, you hardly notice the boys once Karen is onstage.
She struts out in what looks like underwear–handpainted hot pants and matching tank top and legwarmers with the initials CJ (designer Christian Joy, who makes most of Karen’s onstage apparel), two pairs of different-sized ripped fishnet stockings, and Converse All-Star high tops. The crowd goes wild, then subsides when she launches into a song that is unfamiliar to me and apparently to most of the crowd. Recognizable or not, though, you can’t help but dance and shriek along with her.
The crowd freaks out when the band plays such favorites as “Mystery Girl” (off their self-titled EP) and “Y Control” (from the full-length Fever To Tell), but they dance along to everything, sing along, and reach for the stage as Karen kicks, spins, moans and wails, falls to the stage, and inserts the microphone into her mouth for a hands-free scream that echoes in your head for minutes after she’s stopped on the wild “Art Star” (also from the self-titled EP)
My favorite point of the show comes when Karen bends down to share the mike with a girl in the front row during “Our Time.” They sing together, and then Karen gets up and announces, “That girl fuckin’ RULES,” before launching into the chorus of the song.
The crowd didn’t want to leave when the band finally left the stage, but one encore was all that they gave us. The underage kids had to go home, and those of us of legal age headed to the new Hi-Dive (the newest bar with the coolest jukebox and best beer selection in Denver) to hear Nick Zinner’s DJ set. He spun a more eclectic mix than I would’ve expected, but that made me happy, and we got some dancing in before the night ended. I spotted Karen making a hasty exit from a guy trying to talk to her, and though I wanted to thank her for a great show, I certainly didn’t want to scare her anymore. So, Karen, we love you and hope you make good on my predictions that you’ll stick around and join the ranks of the true rock’n’roll goddesses.