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Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Thin White Duke

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: April 12, 2006

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
w/ Blood on the Wall
Tuesday, April 12, 8 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha

Nick Zinner is one unmistakable-looking dude. Short, thin, with a shock of midnight-black hair that matches his midnight-black clothes, his face stands out in pasty white contrast. Think Edward Sissorhands with fingers and a guitar. Zinner is as much a visual centerpiece of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as the band's slinky, spidery lead singer, Karen O. Only drummer Brian Chase, who balances out the trio (Who needs a bass when you got Zinner's huge guitar tone?) fades into the background, preferring to let his drums make up for any lack of presence.

Zinner is the kind of guy that if you saw him around town, you'd remember it. And I remember seeing him in the crowd at a show or two in Omaha, most likely a Saddle Creek gig. "Yeah, it was probably me," he said when asked via cell phone somewhere in Boston where the band was slated to play last Friday night.




Zinner was introduced to Omaha by one of the music scene's patriarchs -- Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes.

"I met Conor through mutual friends and we started hanging out," Zinner explained. "He moved to New York about three years ago, and then he invited me to Omaha for Christmas. It was the first time I went there. I hung out with his family and met a bunch of people. There's something about the place, something about the water. Everyone is ridiculously talented and supportive of each other. That's something that doesn't exist in New York.

New York, Zinner said, lacks Omaha's sense of musical camaraderie. These days life in the Big Apple is all about competition. It wasn't always that way. "There wasn't as much competition when the Yeahs started playing because there wasn't as much of a scene back then," Zinner said. "We didn't feel any competition or animosity. But now I see it a lot. Starting a couple years ago, it's become dog-eat-dog -- who will get a manager first or a record deal first. It takes all the fun out of things."

The only world outside of Omaha that Zinner feels any sort of camaraderie is Brooklyn's Stay Gold Studios, where his band and Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio record. "That's the closest I've seen to the Omaha spirit," Zinner said. "When Dave makes a record, lots of bands play on it and it's not for any reason other than altruistic ones. It's more fun when there's no notion of competition. There's genuine enthusiasm when people help each other out."





"Starting a couple years ago, it's become dog-eat-dog -- who will get a manager first or a record deal first. It takes all the fun out of things."



It felt like that back in 2000 when Zinner and O. first met in Williamsburg, then later brought in Chase to make up the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' rhythm section all by his lonesome. The trio recorded a number of EPs, toured with such notable acts as The Strokes, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Liars before releasing their debut full-length on Interscope in 2003. Fever to Tell spawned the single, "Maps," that fueled the LP to gold-record status. Over the course of four years, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs went from being a hot trash-rock band with a flamboyant front woman known for her deranged stage exploits, to full-fledged, radio-embraced rock stars.

Lord only where their follow-up, Show Your Bones, will take them. While the spacey, exuberant Fever to Tell was a harsh, pornographic funhouse thrill ride, Show Your Bones is safer, more controlled, more grounded, less epic. That said, tracks like the galloping "Honeybear" and strutting opener "Gold Lion" boast a sneer all their own. Perhaps it's a sign of age, but Zinner seems more apt to pick up an acoustic guitar than his usual thunderstick, giving the CD's tone an earthier, more mature feel.

Despite the toned-down approach on Show Your Bones, Zinner said the band's live show is bigger than ever. Fundamentally, it's the same as the last time they played Sokol Auditorium back in March 2004, "but there's a lot more dynamics and a bigger production as far as lights and sound go," he said. "We have more songs, which allows us to achieve more of a big-show experience."

Much bigger, it would seem, than their Oct. 5, 2001, show at BPM in Williamsburg, whose gig poster hangs on my wall. That night, the Yeahs shared the stage with Liars and The Apes. Zinner remembers it well. "It was a lot more innocent back then," he said. "It was very exciting. We didn't know where we were heading, but we had a tremendous force behind us when we played that tiny basement show. And in spite of all the professionalism, I still feel the same spirit behind it today. Nothing will ever change that."

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Published in The Omaha Reader April 12, 2006. Copyright 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.