Beck & Yeah Yeah Yeahs in 3Arena, Dublin, on 23 May 2018
Karen O’s jacket is a fine thing – we haven’t seen finery like this since Mick Jagger graced Croke Park with an equally magnificent piece of haberdashery just one week previous. Its dazzle almost distracts from the fact that for the first few lines of Shake It, the singer is barely audible. It’s a dud microphone that’s to blame for this inauspicious start to Yeah Yeah Yeahs first Irish visit in what seems like an age, but it’s the only blip in the ensuing rout.
‘Fever To Tell’ turned 15 last month, and it seems that Karen O, guitarist Nick Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase are on tour for no other reason than to celebrate the milestone. There’s no album to promote, no debts to pay off – that we’re aware of – and thus no real pressure an anyone, other than to simply enjoy themselves.
The spotlight never leaves Karen O through every hop, skip, strut and defiant stance. Flanked by her three bandmates, all in black (they’re joined by an additional guitarist early in the set), her pivotal role is even more pronounced – multi-coloured visually and domineering vocally. That’s not to say Zinner and Chase are shrinking violets. The finale of Zero brings Chase to his feet to hammer out the song’s final beats, while Zinner’s guitar is the chief sonic assault weapon on a tribalistic Under The Earth – increasingly noisy until its choppy effects bleed out – and just thunderous throughout Black Tongue.
Karen O, to Chase’s delight, sprays a mouthful of water up into the air at the crescendo of Cheated Hearts before descending into the photographers’ rat run, inviting the front row folk to coo into the mic in turn. It’s a nice touch, full of sweetness and giggles, but when she returns to the stage it kicks off – feet on the monitors rock’n’roll and a howling statement: I think that I’m bigger than the sound!” Fucking yes.
Maps, wrenched from the singer’s own heart and bled onto ‘Fever To Tell’, is dedicated to the lovers (and Beck), before the disco punk of Heads Will Roll sets off the confetti cannons. But this ain’t no mere support slot – Poor Song reignites a three-song encore, her delivery almost an ode to the audience before the one-two knockout. Y Control and Date With The Night let Karen O shred her vocal chords one final time. She swings the mic in a chopper motion above her head, before finally smashing it off the floor, sticking it down her pants and pulling it out through her fly. It’s a cracking end to a crackling show, and the band leave the stage with one final act – a zipper being pulled back up.
Follow that, Beck.
Beck Hansen is one of the great showmen, no doubt about it. His own description of last year’s ‘Colors’ album (“If Michael Jackson had a psychedelic period“) speaks to the eclecticism of his entire discography, a consistently fascinating and mutating body of work. His previous Irish visits, to Electric Picnic and Kilmainham, were open-air triumphs, but tonight it’s 3Arena that houses the eight-piece band.
Considering these previous gigs in light of tonight, it feels like it’s those more expansive stage shows, and the bigger crowds, that bring out the best in Beck. The set-up is tonight is metallic, functional and slightly industrial, with a focus on the players. They immediately drop a trio of heavy-hitters – Loser, Devil’s Haircut and E-Pro. It bodes well.
Beck’s no slouch when it comes to fretwork and footwork, and he exercises hips, feet and fingers over the selection, but he’s also no slouch when it comes to the chat. Audience participation is a large part of the set, so much so that it almost detracts from the set itself. For every absolute gem like I’m So Free (banging) and Lost Cause (mellow), there’s an equal amount of call-and-response hokum and clap-along, sing-along faffing around.
Prince’s Raspberry Beret, it has to be said, is a lovely communal tribute to the great man, but this translates so much better in a festival setting – in the confines of a venue it’s more obtrusive. But then again, when you have the sheer force of Beck’s charisma and the songs to back it up, the point is pretty much moot. The band’s set-closing intro to The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields then is merely a ruse, before the requisite personnel introductions and solo segues come encased within the assuredly rocked-out finale of Where It’s At, and curfew be damned.
The question was posed…how do you follow Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Tonight, in Dublin, we’re not sure that you do. On this occasion, the master showman was humbled. We can only echo his reverential utterance as Loser wound down and his own set was just gearing up – “Goddamn…the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.“