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It's their time, sweet baby, to break on through: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs come to town

Wednesday, Apr 16 2003
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The story of how Brooklyn's Yeah Yeah Yeahs transformed themselves from an acoustic folk duo to this year's hottest junk-punk trio is not as scintillating as one might think, given the band's larger-than-life persona and outrageous stage antics. Seems that vocalist Karen O and guitarist Nick Zinner met in a New York City bar and wrote some standard folk tunes, but figured they'd have to spice up their act if they were to reach audiences outside the Big Apple's burgeoning but tightknit underground scene. So O contacted her college pal, drummer Brian Chase, and the rest is history.

The group's swift rise to international stardom may not be Behind the Music material, but each of the rockers has enough stage presence to take up several hours on VH1. O's much-publicized backstage hijinks would fit there, too: During the 2002 South by Southwest music conference, she reportedly made an enemy of another rock 'n' roll bad girl, Courtney Love, by knocking her over after one too many margaritas.

Chase's bespectacled charm and Zinner's Johnny Rotten pompadour are perfect foils for O's trashy sensuality and quirky fashion sense. Cavorting onstage in shredded fishnets, Converse sneakers, and custom-made dresses, while vigorously chugging beer and writhing around on the ground like Joan Jett on Ecstasy, the sexy frontwoman steals the show. She's also refreshingly unselfconscious: Whereas No Doubt's Gwen Stefani dons midriff-baring, mismatched outfits to appeal to teenage boys, O's biggest fans are adolescent girls.

Wooed by major labels, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have garnered fans around the world and wowed notoriously persnickety critics -- all before releasing a full-length album. That's right: The fuss has been based on those notorious live shows and a five-track self-titled EP recorded in 2001. And no wonder -- the album, often referred to as "Bang" after its single (which features the infectious chorus line, "As a fuck, son, you suck"), includes such memorable gems as the fiery anthem "Our Time," in which O yells, "It's our time sweet baby/ To break on through!"; and the catchy track "Art Star," on which O breaks into earsplitting caterwauls like a cat on a hot tin roof.

And the band has done just that, based on a daring combo of musical influences -- O is a fan of Björk and the Dead; Zinner's a no-wave fiend; and Chase is a jazz fanatic. But success has brought its pressures (maybe there's a Behind the Music angle after all): Recording a full-length took longer than expected, which led to the cancellation of a series of appearances and concerts in Europe, and fueled rumors (all false) of drug overdoses and a nasty breakup. The group's highly anticipated debut album, Fever to Tell, is due out on Interscope later this month. So, are the Yeah Yeah Yeahs worthy of all the buzz? Oh yeah.

About The Author

Lisa Hom

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