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May 19, 2008

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are no surprise

By Cole Coonce

“So are you going to pan this show or wot? Caption it with something clever, like ‘No, No, No.'” It is Sunday night, March 14. Tottenham and I are having pad thai on Hollywood Boulevard, a preemptive, high-carb soak-up of imminent libations to be imbibed during and after the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ performance down the street at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater.
“Ummm, you can keep your headline, but, yeah, I’ll probably bag on those guys. From what I’ve read, nobody has really dissed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs yet, and they are at least due.”

“Good for you. Their fans don’t care about music critics, anyway. It’s so over for you and your lot. Like all that shit that runs in the Calendar section of the L.A. Times. A bunch of useless dross by Hilburn and all those other tossers. Nobody cares what you have to say.” He points his chopsticks at me.

“I know it is an exercise in futility, Mr. Tottenham, but I have to say something. Lord knows I can barely be bothered to endorse a check, much less power four cups of Café Bustelo and attempt to hammer out 650 words on this month’s KROQ darlings.”

“650 words? Well, here’s something to pad your word count. Say ‘the problem with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and today’s twentysomething musicians in general – today’s legion of postmodern posturers – is that the world is ready and waiting for them.’ Say that. Say: ‘When we were in our 20s, the world was not ready for us. It’s not the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ fault, it’s just the way it is.’ Go ahead, write that down.”

“I can’t write that down.”

“Why not?”

“Because you said it, and I didn’t. I have a certain journalistic integrity to maintain.”

“That didn’t stop you when you reviewed the Country Teasers a couple of months ago. You quoted me as saying, ‘Flannery O’Connor, I always hated that bastard,’ which I didn’t say, you did, and then you told me, ‘Don’t worry, everyone will get the joke,’ which no one did, so I came across in your little newspaper looking like a total moron, not somebody whose book smarts and intellectual abilities work on a meta-level.”

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs play for 40 or 50 minutes. Two guys and a girl. The arrangements toggle between two sound pressure levels: pretty loud and really loud. The girl yelps and screeches, throws a chair, and rolls around on her back like the flapper Wrath of Fatty Arbuckle; the guitar player summons an absolute tsunami of gnarsome soundscapes, ripping a hole in the very fabric of space and time; and the drummer … drums.

Afterward, Tottenham scours my notes.

“‘Big Jesus and Mary Chain Trash Can?’ Nobody is going to get a Jesus and Mary Chain shout-out, much less an obscure Birthday Party reference. Anybody who remembers Nick Cave’s old band overdosed 10 years ago.”

“But that’s where that young gun-slingin’ guitar player got his haircut and his shtick.”

He ignores me and continues rifling through the notepad.

“‘Patti Smith from Riverdale High?’ ‘Menstrual cramp anti-rock?’ ‘Pole dance instructional videos?’ Is that the best you can do in describing that saucy little vixen? I say she is a spirited lass, and you are not going to do her justice with your purple doggerel.

“But you have to mention the bit where she was groveling on all fours, with the microphone stuck in her pie hole. I rather enjoyed that. Oh, and mention that tunic-waving she was doing, you know: the constant opening of her skirt.”

“I’m way ahead of you, pal.” I point to a passage. “Right here: ‘The airing out of the bread factory.'”

He laughs. I order more wine, and he resumes perusing my notes.

“Hang on. What’s this, then?” He reads: “‘ … the problem with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and today’s twentysomething musicians in general … .'” -30-


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