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A show is never just a show in Los Angeles. It's a plague, or a slow-burning forest fire creeping across the city days before a performance takes place. It starts as hype metastasizing across online social networks and water cooler conversations, then becomes a scramble for tickets, followed by a wait in line, wallowing with others mired with doubt: "Are we going to get in?" The emails, tweets, and texts started days before: "You going to Yeasayer?" The main event will own the stage for a fraction of the time spent thinking about, planning, and traveling to the concert, so this better be worth it. But for every hoop you jump through to see a performance at the Natural History Museum, like Friday's Yeasayer and Warpaint, fortune favors the brave.
First Fridays at the Natural History Museum has become one of those distinctly L.A. events that defines a season. Coachella ushers the end of Spring. Summer starts when the Hollywood Bowl opens and revival films begin in the cemetery. But winter belongs to the Natural History Museum. Amid Friday's rain and cold, the Museum was was cozy and intimate. For those lucky to get in (the show sold out quickly), this second installment of First Fridays was a fine time to gather with your closest corpses (living and taxidermied).
L.A.'s own Warpaint enveloped the audience with the driving rhythms of their ethereal and full-bodied rock. Dual singers and guitar players Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman traded chugging strums and soaring vocals. Kokal, the blonde on stage right, emitted a voice powerful and aching, sometimes warbling or slow-climbing. On "Elephants" Wayman quickly finger-picked crystalline arpeggios, clearing the way for Kokal to lonesomely sing, "I'll break your heart," while thick bass of Jenny Lee Lindberg, and Stella Mozgawa's killer drumming lit the flames that propelled Warpaint as precisely interlocked machine.
With their straight-forward set up, just guitars, bass, and drums, Warpaint refreshingly created rock that wasn't poppy, but still swarmed with hooks that dug deep to the heart. Enrapturing and evocative, their airy and slightly foreboding sound opened doors to introspective spaces far away from the stuffed marmots and caribou of the North American Mammal hall. Ending with their stripped down Sonic Youth-sans-noise, "Krimson," Warpaint redefined the way rock is written, and written about. Their guitar playing isn't cocksure, and the bass isn't ballsy. They don't swagger or strut. They rock but aren't rock stars. And they aren't just an all female band, whose prowess is defined by their sex. They're not a riot grrls, a chick band, or Lillith Fair fodder. Warpaint is a distinct rock band whose songs stand on their own. They do not exist in comparison to male bands, or as a minority in the rock world. They are what they are. So music writers, let's take an oath.
I, (state your name), do solemnly swear, that as a music writer, I will forever refrain from calling a musical act made up of women a "girl band." I will stop highlighting women who play guitars as oddities, or note that a female drummer is good "for a girl." Let's not marvel in their ability to rock, as though it were lightning unable to strike the same spot twice.
Let's grow up.
Signed, (Your Neighborhood Music Writer)
As for Yeasayer, they've grown up a lot since they piqued indie media interest in 2007. Their often reported arrogant demeanor and navel-gazing experimentalism has fallen away, as they fine tuned their multi-genre mixing into a more streamlined unit. The five piece filled the stage with keyboards, drums, guitars, and even cowbell on a podium. The Brooklynites served up a dancey set, infused with electonic beats, organic instrumentation, with Chris Keating leading the sonic circus on vocals. The heavy bass of Ira Wolf Tuton, who was dressed in a wifebeater (we should stop using this term too, right?) while sporting some sort of midieval hair cut, rumbled and popped.
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Shifting from dubby fretless bass to rafter-quaking synth bass, Tuton held the band together, whose disparate elements (and egos) led them astray in the past. Now, on the eve of their new record release, Yeasayer shows the same focus that appears on the forthcoming "Odd Blood." The rhythm heavy "Ambling Amp," provides a lighthearted bounce, and the Arcade Fire-ish "I Remember" centers around an ascending piano line and falsetto vocals. They also gave some crowd favorites including their swaying single, "Tightrope." For a band that was subsumed in so much hype, they have apparently learned to not take themselves so seriously. Brooklyn can be insular, but the world is not. So as Yeasayer forges on into more inclusive direction, making more music to dance to, we say to Yeasayer:
Welcome to the world.