Rainer Maria, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
16 Dec 2001: The First Unitarian Church Philadelphia
The one thing you never want to hear at a concert, as the band takes the stage, with the lead singer conspicuously absent: “So I guess some of you haven’t heard what happened last night . . .” The first thing Rainer Maria guitarist Kyle Fischer said as he and drummer William Kuehn took the stage was that at their show the night before, singer and bassist Caitlin De Marrais had blown out her voice. There was a little more by way of explanation, but the gist of it was: that night, Rainer Maria would be performing sans Caitlin.
Rainer Maria has always hinged upon the boy-girl vocal interactions between Caitlin and Kyle, although passing time has found Caitlin increasingly the lead singer. However, Kyle and William actually did a good job covering in her absence. Kyle (who was supposed to be the singer, until they discovered Caitlin’s skills) took over singing duties. They played some early songs from RM’s original demo, and a couple of quiet songs, and then some songs from the band’s latest album, A Better Version of Me. Some of them sounded good (“The Contents of Lincoln’s Pockets,” most of which Kyle sings anyway, but still clearly missed Caitlin’s accompaniment). Others sounded like, well, there was a reason why they call Caitlin the singer (“Artificial Light” and “Hell and High Water”). On “Hell and High Water”, the group really did seem one member down, but Kyle was trying so hard that you just had to give him credit.
So, as you can guess, the show would’ve been kind of a disappointment.
If not for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who preceded Rainer Maria. They didn’t seem like they’d be much, just a drummer, a guitarist, and a lone singer. Except the singer, identified only as Karen O, has obviously taken a course on “How to Move and Sing like a Rock God(dess)”. Because she definitely knew how to work the crowd. Strutting, spinning around, kicking, and twirling the mic wire like she owned the place, and pulling every ounce of style from the lyrics—she had everyone’s attention.
Something else happened, too. A group of fans (hereinafter referred to as the Dance Party) made so much of a ruckus my friend and I figured they had to be friends of the band, eventually working their way to the front to take over the show. To visualize this, you have to remember that fans at indie shows, as a rule, don’t dance, let alone “rock out”. They stand there, maybe bobbing their heads a little. Why this happens, I don’t know (although I have some theories), but you have to picture the Dance Party at the center of the crowd, moving and dancing with abandon, surrounded by people who seemed to just stand there.
Fortunately, it seemed like a large portion of the crowd eventually got the message, and started to dance. It was enough to make one remember that this is what a Rock show (capital R) is supposed to be like: moving, sweaty, and above all loud. And the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, led by the mysterious Karen O, fed off the energy and then seemed to turn everything up a notch.
So after the thrill of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Dance Party, there was the customary wait, and then 2/3 of Rainer Maria came out and gave the crowd the news. (This was originally going to be a piece about movement, in the crowd and on stage. First, Karen O, and then Caitlin De Marrais. Caitlin moves on stage with a grace I’ve never seen in anyone else with a guitar, and, standing there in the basement of the First Unitarian Church, I was taking stock of a show that featured both women. Sadly, such was not to be.)
Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the last band to perform, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Sporting members of the Make Up, and promoted to headliner status (as the last band on stage), they played a set of part-punky, part jam-band rock that was also quite thrilling. On any other night, they would have been the star attraction (before he left the stage, Kyle from Rainer Maria proclaimed them “the best live band in the world”), but after the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the unexpected absence of Caitlin De Marrais, they ended up getting overshadowed. And I must admit, by the time they came on, I was a little tired for their energetic performance. (God, did I just say that? I must be 22 going on 50.)
But the star of the night was Karen O, and a night that started with the show getting underway a couple of hours late, and my friend and I complaining about the lack of production values and why some major label doesn’t give Rainer Maria the millions they deserve, turned into something else entirely. And sometimes, when you think the night’s going one way, it takes a completely different turn, but that’s life. And the best $8 I’ve spent on a show in a long time.