Live Shots: Yuck finds its voice at The Independent

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“I remember the last time I was here the room was filled with the smell of weed,” said Yuck’s lead vocalist Max Bloom with his charming British accent, facing yet another thick fog looming over the audience. “I feel like I’m getting high out of proximity.” The herb-filled air wasn't new to The Independent, and this wasn’t Yuck’s first time in San Francisco. But the band that showed up there Wednesday night [1/30] was a very different band than Yuck has been in the past.

Since April 2013, the London-based indie rock outfit has been forced to regroup and reinvent itself after frontman Daniel Blumberg’s departure. Yuck’s signature lazy '90s grunge lo-fi sound from its eponymous debut LP has apprently departed with Blumberg; instead, the band has adopted a calmer tone that highlights strong instrumentation as opposed to their earlier focus on smooth vocals. 

Opening the show with the upbeat rock number “Middle Sea,” from its sophomore record Glow & Behold, Yuck started out the show with genuine enthusiasm, matching the stoner crowd’s mood. Like I was, many people seemed anxious to see how well the band would fare sans Blumberg’s Elliott Smith-like voice. If you’ve listened to Glow & Behold, you’ve already noticed the pleasant SoCal intonation in Bloom’s voice. Whether intentional or not, the inconsistency in Bloom’s vocals was amplified during the show, casting an uneven, melancholic tone to both Glow & Behold and Yuck songs. 

Bloom’s promotion to lead vocalist also made room for guitarist Ed Hayes, Yuck’s newest member. Wearing a washed out Pac Man T-shirt, the sprightly guitarist offered backup vocals to Bloom’s deep yet delicate voice and rocked out during “Lose My Breath” — an energetic tune with a soft melody. Bassist Mariko Doi joined in occasionally with backup vocals, offering a contrasting strain to the guitarists’ deep voices.

Throughout the night, Yuck’s vocals remained uneven, with Bloom relying heavily on the backup vocals from Doi and Hayes, despite Doi’s soft — at times inaudible — murmur. Although her instrumentals were perfectly on point, Doi’s solo rendition of “The Wall” seemed lacking in passion and vibrato. Things picked up when drummer Jonny Rogoff began singing along in the back, bringing excitement when it was needed.

While it’s rare for young bands such as Yuck to carry on without one of its founding pillars, the indie rockers don’t seem fazed by the change. Bloom, Hayes, Doi, and Rogoff played in unison with lots of noise and energy, working together rather than as separates. Sure, they’re still working out the kinks with vocals, but overall, the change seems for the better. Even though Bloom has stepped up to the plate as frontman, Doi and Hayes carried their own, shining in the spotlight at various times during the night. Even Rogoff had his moment when fans cheering for the encore began chanting his name. "Jonny, Jonny, Jonny…" The band came back on stage, but only after Rogoff asked to hear the chant again. “You just made his day,” said Bloom before jumping into “Memorial Fields” from Glow & Behold, the closest thing to the band’s old lo-fi.

One major disappointment: Yuck didn’t play one of its most beautiful songs, “Shook Down.” The mellow lyrics and soft beat are a highlight from the band’s debut LP and a major crowd-pleaser. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt like there was something missing at the end of the show. Maybe it was “Shook Down,” maybe it was Blumberg...either way, Yuck’s reinvention is worth appraisal. Despite the band’s recent reformation, Yuck is not lacking in passion. They might still be struggling to find right voice, but the foursome’s trademark '90s grunge vibe was ever so present, and their future seems promising — as evidenced, especially, by a brilliant cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent." Blumberg who?

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