For such a noisy band, it's striking how quietly they may have evolved into a great one.
Of the freshman class of bands that flourished during the great hipster-rock renaissance of 2001, the abrasive, art-damaged Yeah Yeah Yeahs hardly seemed the most likely to succeed. Yet nearly a decade later, the New York trio has emerged as the only one among its peers capable of easing comfortably into adulthood, and the breadth of the material in its 90-minute stand at the Greek Theater proved a revelation. For such a noisy band, it’s striking how quietly they may have evolved into a great one.
Perhaps the most conspicuous adult presence onstage Thursday night was frontwoman Karen O, who has steadily developed from an attention-starved art-schooler playing at being a rock star, into the genuine article. Granted, she still dons a series of outrageous outfits and flings herself dangerously across the stage, spewing geysers of water at her bandmates and deep-throating the mic, but these Iggy-antics are now merely one piece of a vast onstage repertoire: the singer seemed equally comfortable engaging in un-ironic arena-rock gestures on “Cheated Hearts,” and joyously pogoing along with “Zero.”
Though her voice is limited to two basic registers — a quivering croon and a larynx-ripping howl — the singer has learned how to exploit the dissonance between the two for maximum emotional impact. Guitarist Nick Zinner is still adept at looping and layering multiple T-Rexish riffs atop one another, and his frequent sojourns to the keyboard and drum machine further diversified the band’s sound, ably abetted by drummer Brian Chase’s subtly intricate polyrhythms and thunderous left wrist. (A fourth instrumentalist also helped out for roughly one-third of the show, switching from bass to acoustic guitar to keys.)
If the group’s growth often appears somewhat scattershot, it’s likely because they’ve yet to produce a singular statement on record. Striking and immediate, their early EPs and debut “Fever to Tell” were nonetheless creative cul-de-sacs, while the folksier touches of 2006’s “Show Your Bones” and the dancefloor overtones of this year’s “It’s Blitz!” were steps in the right direction, if not always successful ones. But when integrated into a single set list, the band’s catalog coheres spectacularly. They may have yet to match the angular aural assault and sexual menace of 2003’s “Date with the Night,” for example, but in concert, that song was all the more powerful for being the only one of its type.
A truly gorgeous mid-set mini-suite of “Skeletons” and “Hysteric” stood as the show’s obvious high point, its swooning romance outdone only by the band’s signature hit, “Maps,” which was recast as a tender acoustic torch song later in the evening. After all, even noise-loving indie kids need music to make out to, and it was heartening to see the band embrace the gentler edges of their material in concert.
Nonetheless, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s bread-and-butter remains in its burn-and-pillage anthems, from the feverish start-stop punk of “Pin” to the death-disco workout “Heads Will Roll,” and the relatively sedate Greek was perhaps ill-equipped to properly transmit that energy. An inspired bit of theater late in the show — in which several of the 8 ft. inflatable eyeballs that adorned the stage were let loose into the crowd, along with an explosion of confetti — helped introduce a welcome splash of chaos to the otherwise inappropriately polite, Chardonnay-sipping milieu.
In contrast to the focused ferocity of the headliners, opening act the Breeders were as likeably nonchalant and frustratingly noncommittal as ever, with twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal performing much like two precocious yet easily distractible kids at an elementary school talent show.