Punk rock’s original formula has been tweaked countless times over the past quarter century — mostly by those bent on adding more and more water to the mix in order to make it palatable for less adventurous palates. It’s refreshing, then, that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the latest “next big thing” to emerge from the neo-punk underground, have all the concentrated aggression — and a good bit of the calculated outrage –of the genre’s grandfathers.
Although the Brooklyn-based trio has been kicking around the Gotham scene for the better part of two years, this show — a slightly early release fete for their imminent Interscope debut,”Fever to Tell” — was something of a coming-out party, one that Karen O was quick to jump-start.
The diminutive singer, who seems to have perfected a mad-scientist fusion of the stage personae of Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry, is one of those folks you either want to high-five or slap silly, depending on your degree of empathy. She’s got all the old-school punk rock tricks — pouring beer over herself, jamming a microphone in her mouth a la the Cramps’ Lux Interior — down pat, but her omnipresent grin (which often gives way, mid-song, to a torrent of giggles), makes the scene more celebratory than threatening.
Behind her, guitarist Nick Zinner (a black-haired Jim Jarmusch doppelganger) and drummer Brian Chase stomped and stammered through a series of blues-tinged punk tunes that, while hardly ground-breaking, often verged on the earth-shaking. That was particularly true on the menacing opener, “Black Tongue,” and a dizzily somersaulting take on the anthemic “Our Time.”
Energy levels sagged occasionally — as on the treacly “Maps,” which suggests a Diane Warren-penned punk power ballad — but the band’s “keep it simple, stupid” philosophy invariably pulled it through. While the Yeah Yeah Yeahs don’t push the minimalist envelope with the authority of fellow bass-eschewers the White Stripes, this perf revealed enough dogged determination to suggest they’ll be just as tough to push around.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs play the Henry Fonda Theater in Los Angeles April 18.