Yeah Yeah Yeahs Burned Bright as Ever in Toronto

History, November 11

With Sasami

Photo: Stephen McGill

BY Kaelen BellPublished Nov 12, 2023

"This song is about being sexually possessed," Sasami told the crowd at History. "I dedicate it to Karen O." 

The song in question was a newbie, as were all the songs that Sasami (solo, accompanied only by a laptop full of backing tracks and a scarcely-used guitar) performed on Saturday night. Anyone hoping for a taste of Squeeze's metal monstrosities was left wanting, as Sasami took the opportunity to preview her "Britney Spears era." 

"Do we like Britney Spears?" she asked the crowd at one point. "This is like when a Korean girl tries that." The new songs were enormous and punchy, folding the metal-leaning riffage of Sasami's last record with MUNA-sized pop choruses and broad, emotional lyricism. 

Sasami's stage presence was wily and energetic, her long wavy hair flying behind her as she twirled and sprinted the stage's length again and again. Still, it felt like an odd introduction to anyone in the crowd not familiar with her past work — a scrappy, DIY performance from an artist capable of a ferocious full-band intensity. 

The vaguely inelegant presentation made a sort of sense; the night felt like a glimpse of the Sasami to come, a still-in-process rebirth that includes some requisite growing pains. That she managed to pull it off at all is a testament to her boundless charisma and clarity of vision. 

And speaking of boundless charisma, here came Karen O. After an extended period of set up that included multi-instrumentalist Imaad Wasif patiently saging the entire stage, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came out and compressed their opener's nervy, free-flying energy into a perfect diamond of road-tested star power. 

Kicking things off with a lush, bone-quaking rendition of Cool It Off opener "Spitting Off the Edge of the World," O, Brian Chase and Nick Zinner sprinted through their catalogue with a genuine joy that belied the band's sometimes bumpy two decades together and the inevitable exhaustion of closing out a nearly two-year world tour. O hiccuped with laughter throughout the set, beaming with pride and playfulness as she spewed mists of water and careened across the stage in her fringed Christian Joy bodysuit. It's hard to overstate how singular O's stage presence really is; that after more than 20 years of shows and crowds and set up and take down, she seems capable of giving every strand of DNA she has to each neon-lit millisecond. "I'm really feeling it now," she exclaimed after tearing through "Rich." "I was born feeling it!"

"This song is really special to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs," O told the crowd before settling into the majesty of "Soft Shock," which is, for my money, the band's greatest song — argue with your mother. "We recorded it at Sonic Ranch, under the big bowl of Texas sky." From there, they rolled through songs like "Sacrilege," "Gold Lion" and, obviously, "Maps," before closing on "Heads Will Roll," blasting confetti into the crowd. 

Of course, the end is never really the end, and the band returned to the stage as a three-piece for an encore that celebrated the 20-year anniversary of Fever to Tell. "Poor Song," "Y Control" and "Date with the Night" all got their moment in the sun, performed with the same ferocity that birthed them all those years ago. 

"My favourite band in the whole wide world is right here on stage with me," O said at one point after introducing her compatriots to the audience. Watching these three former art-punk freaks bash out their 20-year history, smiling wide and swinging limbs, you believed her. 

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