Yuck Leads a Roadtrip to Nostalgia at the Independent

Categories: Last Night

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Yuck
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
July 26, 2011
The Independent

Better than: Listening to Yo La Tengo records and wishing you were 16 again.

Barely postadolescent British kids Yuck released a self-titled debut album this year on Fat Possum, and holy shit, do I love it, and holy shit, does it make me feel old. Their '90s college rock sound -- think Dinosaur Jr., Built to Spill, Pavement, Teenage Fanclub, Archers of Loaf, Sonic Youth, early Smashing Pumpkins -- has the crunchy distortion and soaring guitar hooks that takes me back to driving around with a brand-new driver's license and a sense that I could point the car anywhere and keep driving and I'd never have to stop. Hearing a group of 20-year-olds re-create that sound makes realize it's been nearly 13 years since I took my driving test.

Opening for them was Portland's Unknown Mortal Orchestra. "Sorry we're playing in the dark," frontman Ruban Nielson apologized. "It's just all we want to do right now." With no stage lights, the band ripped through a tight set of songs from its self-titled debut. The crowd was sparse, perhaps due to the decision to break Yuck up into two nights at the Independent. During some of UMO's weaker moments, including a new song with time signature acrobatics where the band's reach exceeded its grasp, you could watch as iPhones lit up across the room like some sort of flower that only blooms in boredom. But at their best, such as set ender "How Can U Luv Me," the three-piece delivered skronky, lo-fi funk that sounded like the Jackson 5 filtered through a liberal arts degree and lots of bong smoke.

Then Yuck took the stage. The group is essentially Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom, both Londoners. Blumberg, who looked like a gangly mixture of Bob Dylan, Larry Bird, and Michael Cera, handled vocals and rhythm guitar, while Bloom, genial and dapper, was responsible for lead guitar heroics. Backed up by bassist Mariko Doi and drummer Johnny Rogoff, the band opened with "Holing Out" as the venue began to fill up with the smell of cheap weed.

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Jordan Kushins
The merch table at Yuck.

During the first song, the course of the night became clear. Blumberg, ducking to sing into the mic, was in Pure Artist mode, seemingly indifferent to the crowd. Bloom, meanwhile, was responsible for 95 percent of the guitar riffs and handled the stage banter. "I feel like we're getting really high by proxy," he joked afterward.

Live, Yuck at times left something to be desired. The great crunches of distortion that kick in on the album were muted and flattened live, and Blumberg was so inert as to be nearly catatonic, except for when hunched like a human question mark over his guitar. Bloom did his best to liven up the crowd, mainly by joking about weed and asking for a couch to crash on. "All your hotels are a bit tight right now," he beseeched. "So if anyone has a place to stay, we'd be much obliged." They played a new song that strays into the kind of minor-chord pensiveness of Sonic Youth, but failed to develop into much beyond that, or deliver the great riff that sets Yuck apart.

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Daniel Blumberg (left) and Max Bloom (right) of Yuck.

But when the band is good, goddamn but does it deliver. Uptempo rockers like "Get Away" and "Operation" punched hard, pure-pop hits like "Georgia" and B-side "Milkshake" sounded like Superchunk in the best way possible, and "Suck," with Bloom playing very Doug Martschian slide guitar, was transformed from being a decent song on the album to a revelation live.

Which all led into Yuck's absolutely best song: "Rubber." A sludgy, epically beautiful mess on the album, it was even slower live. Bloom and Blumberg's twin distortions unspooled in thick sine waves over the crowd, as Blumberg's cries of "Should I give in?" echoed on and on. Feedback squalled in odd chiming patterns in my ears, and I'm 16 again, gripping the steering wheel with the song turned up as loud as it can go as the music fills up my ears, my eyes, my chest, my head.


Setlist

Holing Out
The Wall
Shook Down
Georgia
Suicide Policeman
Milkshake
Get Away
Suck
Operation
New Song
Rubber

Critic's Notebook

While bookers and the Independent are no doubt making a bit more money off breaking Yuck's performance into two nights, you can't help but wonder if the show would have been improved by packing the folks in tighter.

Overheard in the bathroom: "I hate hanging out in her Turntable room. It's all hip-hop, all the time, and everyone votes you down if you don't play Tribe constantly." Good to see Turntable.fm is already really causing some social friction.

Ever since its big remodel, the Independent just seems like a concert hall designed by Ethan Allen. All the pleasant woodgrain makes me want a beach towel and a good summer read, but doesn't do much for making me want to see live music.

The crowd was plaid-clad and very dudecentric. Much like the Guided by Voices shows I remember, if there was a woman, she was there because of a guy who ended up paying more attention to the band than to her. It felt like the type of crowd that 15 years ago would have been made up of record store clerks, except record store clerks don't even exist anymore.

A nice part of seeing a band with only one album behind it: no stupid charade about an encore. Yuck had nothing else to play, so the last song was the last song. More bands should follow its lead on this.

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Location Info

Venue

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The Independent

628 Divisadero, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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2 comments
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TheReedguy
TheReedguy

Yuck was great!  Who needs antidepressants with bands like this.  Destine to be the next  Yo La Tengo.

Brendan
Brendan

Sweet jesus, that was a boring show.  UMO blew Yuck out of the water.  Who is worse live, Yuck or the Pains of Being Pure at Heart?  tough call.

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