This post is a few days late going up. It's not Mark's fault. -Ed.
It’s quite easy to imagine Yuck being forged from the same hot iron that produced indie rock in the late '80s and early '90s. But they band is too young, and too distant, I keep telling myself (to no avail). After all, they’re English.
Truth is, Yuck makes me feel good. Makes me feel fuzzy and nostalgic. The brand new foursome—still steaming from heavy SXSW acclaim—has a single self-titled album to its name and still reminds my generation of how it learned to love music in the first place. That ear-opening partnership of man, headphones, and a Screaming Trees/Smashing Pumpkins/Sonic Youth/DJ Jazzy Jeff/Three Tenors/Wynton Marsalis/Band Of Your Choosing cassette tape.
Yuck’s sound is not only grunge-era American, it’s Pacific Northwest, circa 1991. The name alone conjures up frayed denim, flannels tied around waists, and the good Dr. Martens. It covers the breadth of the Portland experience, from mopey, disenchanted and strung out to self-sufficient, mindful and modest. More than anything, Yuck offers the oft-contradictory combination of heartsick and anti-authoritarian—the coffeehouse romantics of two decades ago.
Frontman Daniel Blumberg, sporting a frazzled Robert Smith look, led the Londoners through a tight set lasting just under an hour. Blumberg brought the angst bright and early, opening with “Holling Out,” a perfect pedestal for his distraught, almost sarcastic vocals. Meanwhile, guitarist and James Mercer look-a-like Max Bloom hammered away with a Sex Pistols sort of harshness, turning out speedy, scratchy hooks with a few flicks of the wrist.
Bassist Mariko Doi plucked sedated lines from her center stage post. She looked the part of a Quentin Tarantino character, all bangs and morose. Just the sluggish bass skeleton Max and Daniel could build on. When she was left to fend for herself, the feel was decidedly The Cure and I found myself searching for mascara.
In the soft-grunge track “Rubber,” Yuck demonstrated its control of noise, a rare grasp considering feedback, scratch and static were the main ingredients. The downtempo, droning number had the crowd asking existential questions with eyes closed. Like a freshly washed leather vest—and in many ways like the band itself—the song was pristine and poised for destruction, if encouraged.
Bloom gave merit to the innumerable Dinosaur Jr. comparisons with “Georgia” and “Get Away.” The tracks feature his J. Mascis-like, mid-register, vocal matching guitar solos, which send the songs spiraling into a frenzy. And just as things approach nausea, Yuck pauses and allows listeners to gaze at their shoes and find equilibrium.
Blumberg rubbed his face nervously in between songs, remarking on the split in the pit between minors and adults. “I don’t get it,” he muttered. “Is it like, the north versus the south, or something?”
“No, it’s just fucked up,” one kid shouts—the king of all segues. “Well that’s what this next song is about,” Blumberg adds. He’s like Bradford Cox through the eyes of Will Vinton: All bones and expression. In fact, the more I listen, the less far-fetched the Deerhunter comparisons seem.
What is paramount to Yuck is a collective appreciation of early indie-rock and frank British new wave. Be it the group's youth, hefty lo-fi, or drummer Jonny Rogoff’s love affair with crash cymbals, it’s the inspiration of one memorable era that seems to move them. The likes of Pond, Built to Spill, Pedro the Lion and the Smiths bubble up in all ten tracks of Yuck’s only record.
Before leaving the stage for Tame Impala, Yuck ran through the puttering and powerful “Suicide Policeman.” Through “The Wall,” Yuck flexed all its muscles. The song is as early 90’s as it gets, dressed in barbed guitar riffs Mark Arm would be proud of. Blumberg’s vocals stray, like a dissident hellbent on detention, before rejoining a surge of feedback, measured percussion and a barrage of coarse but cutting guitar solos.
The only signs of 4/20 came in the form of frequent bathroom checks by venue security. So be it, this was more of a heroine crowd anyway.