Yeasayer @ The Metro Theatre, Sydney (31/1/13)

The last time Yeasayer came to Australia for St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, back in 2011, they were hot property. They arrived in support of a critically acclaimed second album, Odd Blood, which was sprawling and psychedelic but featured a string of killer singles, a couple of which made it into triple j’s Hottest 100. Two years on and the band are back in the country for Laneway, but this time, things are a little different.

The Brooklyn band’s last album, Fragrant World was underwhelming: more straightforward and subtle, and lacking the pop punch of its predecessor. As a result, the band seem to have all but vanished from the minds of critics and fans, and it’s a smaller, more subdued crowd in The Metro Theatre tonight awaiting their arrival. Yeasayer’s challenge with this tour is to remind Australia why we fell in love with them in the first place, and hopefully to cast a fresh, positive light on the newer songs which fell so flat on record.

Given the task of warming up for Yeasayer tonight are Oliver Tank and opening act Fishing – a Sydney duo equipped with a laptop, a synth and various other electronic bits and bobs. Two men slightly awkwardly pushing buttons doesn’t make for much of a visual spectacle, and the crowd generally chose to stare at their phones rather than the stage, but Fishing sound good, making complex but catchy beats, which eventually get heads nodding. Following Fishing, the 23 year old multi-instrumentalist Oliver Tank is a revelation, sounding like Jim James fronting Tunng, with his take on soulful, folky, scratchy electronica.

Yeasayer, led by vocalists Chris Keating and Ira Wolf Tuton, open their performance with a couple of songs from Fragrant World: ‘Blue Paper’ and ‘Henrietta’. It’s an arresting start to the show, as the band are great to watch, their movements locked to the beat of the music as they bash away at their instruments. The opening couplet is a mark of things to come in a set heavily slanted towards the most recent album, but the more direct nature of the newer material does translate well live, with the band putting everything into its delivery, as if determined to convince the crowd of its merits.

It was undeniably however the trio of songs from Odd Blood that garnered the best response from the crowd, with ‘O.N.E.’, ‘Madder Red’ and a joyous ‘Ambling Alp’ (which bought the main part of the set to a close) eliciting huge cheers and getting the crowd moving in a way that the newer songs never managed.

Returning to the stage following a short break, the band began their encore with two of the less exciting songs from their latest album: ‘Devil and The Deed’ and ‘Fingers Never Bleed’, before playing ‘Tightrope’, the song they contributed to the Red Hot Organization’s excellent 2009 compilation, Dark Was the Night. The three songs together made for a very downbeat start to the encore, which was sufficient to cause a sizeable section of the crowd to start drifting away before Yeasayer rounded out the night with the upbeat ‘Wait For The Summer’ from their debut album.

Perhaps the band’s best work is behind them, and perhaps Yeasayer didn’t do enough to stop people drifting away, but there’s still plenty in the band’s live show that captures the greatness the band are capable of.