By MICHAEL ANDERSON
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014
Better than: Going deaf at home.
This band is having an identity crisis.
Yuck released one of the most acclaimed rock records in recent memory, but just two years after landing on best-of lists from Spin, Pitchfork and the New York Times, frontman and lead vocalist Daniel Blumberg left the band. It's a move that's hard to recover from. Bands lose members all the time -- Interpol lost bassist Carlos D, Smashing Pumpkins lost basically everybody -- and while you might notice the absence of those members' signature styles, no departure is quite as damning as that of the lead vocalist and frontman. He or she, with all the photoshoots -- not to mention the irreplaceable voice -- becomes the band's identity.
So, Yuck in 2013 isn't the same as Yuck in 2011. Obviously, Max Bloom's croon isn't the same as Daniel Blumberg's screech. These days, the arrangements also have more space. Songs like "Somewhere" envelop you and ask you to breathe in; they don't knock you over and ask you to fight back, like "The Wall."
In their live show last night at the Independent, it wasn't quite clear which band Yuck wanted to be. It's true that the singer's execution of Blumberg-helmed songs was nearly flawless -- only on "Holing Out" was it obvious that this was an entirely different voice -- but the energy they brought to the stage wasn't clearly going in either direction: Yuck that rawks or Yuck that sends you into space.
By contrast, second opener Grmln clearly knew what it wanted to be. The lead singer walked on stage with a Black Flag T-shirt; you knew from the beginning that this is punk music. And so the band members went apeshit: the guitarists jumped and fell to the floor, onto their knees, and thrashed at their instruments. The drummer struck his kit in rapidfire. Their energy could be even too raw -- the lead singer's voice is limited in range, but he still insisted on yelling into the mic -- but the energy was at least consistent with the sound.
Later, Yuck would play songs that scorch on record, and while the playing was often excellent, the presentation wasn't always as stellar.
New member Ed Hayes may have been the only exception. He wasn't content just to strum his guitar. He swung his right arm in wide arcs and bounced around the stage. He might have worn the same expression throughout, but he at least showed the strength and agility to match the songs' bounce.
Meanwhile, bassist Mariko Doi hid under her bangs and politely bent her knees in rhythm to the music, never venturing too far from her original place on stage. She did breathe some rhythm into bass-heavy songs like "Holing Out." She even stood in for ex-singer Daniel Blumberg on "The Wall," and did an excellent job. But she didn't seem comfortable occupying the role of lead singer, especially on a high-energy song like that.
Dance moves aside, Yuck sounded great. The old songs still rocked without Blumberg's snarl. And the new songs came across even better in a live setting, where they were given more space to breathe. Max Bloom's voice is better fitted to such songs anyway; while Blumberg's high-pitched snarl would join the wave of screeching guitars, Bloom's decidedly lower voice was a beauty next to slower, more funereal arrangements, like those of "Nothing New."
Penultimate track "Memorial Fields" also showed how far this band could go as a dream-pop band. The guitars swirled like the best bands of that genre, but it didn't sound derivative. As with the '90s indie-rock feel of their first album, Yuck managed to make these sounds their own -- and inspired members of the audience to shut their eyes and sway.
Personal bias: I love to move at shows: dance, jump, stomp -- anything to get the blood pumping -- so the band's low energy may have gotten to me more than most in the crowd.
Know your idols: If you like Yuck, you'd like their forefathers. They alternately sound like a peer of Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and Yo La Tengo.
1. Middle Sea
2. Holing Out
3. Lose My Breath
4. Out of Time
5. Get Away
7. Nothing New
8. [New song]
9. The Wall
10. Age of Consent [New Order cover]
12. Memorial Fields