Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Shepherds Bush Empire, London<br>Bob Dylan, International Arena, Cardiff

Karen O and her noisy New Yorkers hit the target on their return to Britain after a three-year absence

Saturday 15 March 2014 02:55

How do they do that? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' return to British stages after three years takes place under the watchful pupil of a single giant floating eyeball, set amid concentric circles of purple glitter. Midway through the show, it rolls backwards upon itself like the eye of a pilled-up raver then, magically, turns into a replica of the moon.

It's like finding yourself inside Dali's dream sequence from Hitchcock's Spellbound. It's also a necessary bit of bigger thinking from a band who emerged from the dark and dirty world of underground nightclubs and, for a while, looked exposed and lost in the glare.

Karen O, with her expressive if amateurish dancing, makes her body part of the spectacle, and her outfit – a red, white and blue ensemble involving rubber tubing and a target with the bullseye on the crotch – almost seems a defiant repudiation of her status as a fashion leader.

To complete the over-the-top mise-en-scène, the YYYs break with gig protocol by unleashing the metallic confetti early on, with repeat showers every couple of songs, meaning that by the end Karen's kicking through an autumnal drift. It serves as a metaphor for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' musical trajectory. From the opening two songs – the Cyndi Lauper-goes-shoegaze of "Runaway" and the Stray Cats rockabilly rattle of "Dull Life", both from new album It's Glitz – it's evident that the New Yorkers are testing the limitations of their rudimentary drums-guitars-screeches format.

There's an undeniable Eighties feel to the new stuff, from the (Kim) Wildean "Skeletons" to the PiL-purloining "Heads Will Roll", which is amplified by the George Michael (circa "Faith") leather jacket Karen dons for "Zero". It provides a lush counterpoint to the raw earlier material, of which the voodoo-glam of "Gold Lion" and a glorious "Bang" stand out. The all-new YYYs aren't 100 per cent derivative, though. Karen's ditched her Siouxsie impersonation and has finally found the power of her own voice.

"The poet laureate of rock'n'roll ... the voice of the Sixties counterculture ... who found God in the Seventies ... got into drug abuse and disappeared in the Eighties ... Bob Dylan!!!" You never know which Bob Dylan is going to turn up nowadays – crowd-pleaser or contrarian – but the self-mocking announcement which opens his current tour hints at a third creature entirely: the stand-up comedian.

There's plenty of standing up, but most of it's behind a keyboard. (He's no Al Kooper, but he's decent.) Indeed, Dylan – looking, in his grey homburg, twinkling earring and vintage suit, like a 19th-century lawman on the take – doesn't speak a word until the encores, when a simple "Thank you, friends" is enough to send Cardiff into tumult, such is his diffidence. Then again, even a quick blast of harmonica receives rapturous roars.

What's changed between the last time I saw Dylan (2005) and today is that he's now attempting to sing, albeit after a fashion (as opposed to his early Noughties monotone). His superlative band, fluent in cajun, country, blues and boogie-woogie, back Bob's Roland Rat whine on a set composed of extracts from the current Together Through Life, the recent Modern Times and Love and Theft, covers such as the century-old blues standard "Rollin' and Tumblin'", and reasonably respectful renditions of hits "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", "Hey Mr Tambourine Man", "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Highway 61 Revisited".

Highlights are an especially stunning "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again", a suitably doom-laden "Masters of War", and a vertebrae-vibrating version of "All Along the Watchtower" that's informed more by Jimi Hendrix's arrangement than Dylan's original.

It wouldn't be a latter-day Bob Dylan gig, though, without having to play a little Name That Tune. Tonight, it's "Blowin' in the Wind", given a Seventies MOR makeover, which suffers the strangest transformation, with a ripple of recognition spreading through the crowd midway through the third verse. If we can't have comedy, a game show will have to do.

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