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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs rocked the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse Wednesday night.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs rocked the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse Wednesday night. (Photo: Summerfest)
Karen O had the stage presence to match her rockin' voice.
Karen O had the stage presence to match her rockin' voice. (Photo: Summerfest)

Karen O, Yeah Yeah Yeahs provide plenty of reasons to scream "yeah!"

Mere minutes after the traditional opening day fireworks finished lighting up the lakefront sky, punky indie rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs proceeded to light up the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse stage with a propulsive set that had the entire crowd screaming, well, yeah!

The New York City group – led by charismatic, growly lead singer Karen O – made its debut in 2003 with "Fever To Tell," featuring the hit song "Maps." The song made its way onto several "best of the decade" lists, as well as onto the hit video game "Rock Band."

Since then, the band has continued to thrive, especially Karen O, who made like many pop musicians – Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers – and joined the world of movies. This included composing the soundtrack to the film adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are" and covering "Immigrant Song" for the creepy opening credit sequence in the American version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

The shriek-happy Karen O is clearly the main draw, and she doesn’t disappoint. She’s a high-energy lightning bolt on stage, getting the claps started early on the show’s opener "Sacrilege" – off of the band's latest album "Mosquito" – and pulling out a prop headlamp for the fourth number, "Under the Earth."

The music and the rest of the band really feeds off of her stage presence. She’s an exuberant, eclectic mix of glam rock fashion (she rocked a shiny, flamboyant cape for much of the show’s first act), Mick Jagger’s posturing struts and a punk rocker’s excitable aggression, especially when it comes to her mic. She swung the yellow-corded mic around like a ragdoll – eventually smashing it in "Date with the Night," the set’s encore –regularly pulled it taut like a garrote wire and shoved it down her throat for maximum scream volume.

Her deviously giddy smiles and on-stage charisma matched her rockin’ voice. Sometimes it woundedly soared, like on "Runaway." Other times, like on the moody hit love song "Maps," it haunted. And then there are her signature features: her staccato hehs and her viciously piercing yells, on display in "Cold Light" and "Pin." In the latter, the chorus sounded like a rapid fire of razor blades.

Her sharp voice continually cut through the throbbing, pulse-pounding music (the band rocks harder and rougher live than on their slightly more subdued albums). In fact, the only time it managed to tone her down was when her mic flat-out didn’t work for a few seconds of "Cheated Hearts."

Despite Karen O’s big personality, the rollicking pace didn’t leave much time for interaction. Karen O and company restlessly bounced from song to song without much stalling, save for some quick shout-outs before "Maps" and a short greeting before "Gold Lion" in which she stated it was Tuesday. She got the important part – the name of the city – right, though.

Trading small talk for a vigorous onslaught of rocking tunes, however, is a good deal any time, especially when the combination of band and star make for such a ferociously entertaining show. The 70-minute set continually built to its apex with the set closer "Heads Will Roll," another one of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ hits, slightly transformed into a vicious, snarling dance anthem.

Then there was the punkish encore, featuring dramatic pauses, swallowed and smashed mics, and shrieks that likely peeled the paint right off the Harleys tucked away on the back wall. Karen O came out for the song wearing a shiny paper crown, fitting considering she performed like rock royalty on opening night. 

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