As I look for a comfortable viewing space within the crowd here to see YACHT’s performance at Rough Trade, I am surprised how packed the venue is. Since I discovered YACHT (“Young Americans Challenging High Technology”) in my early teens, the band’s renown has exploded. YACHT has gone from a little-known alternative favorite to a fairly known Grammy-nominated kombucha-drinking-crowd-drawing phenomenon.
When I saw the band in January of 2018 in Manhattan on their “Strawberry Moon” tour, the small venue they performed in was maybe halfway full – I was never more than an arm’s length away from frontwoman Claire L. Evans, and she was able to leave the stage and dance through the crowd. Now, YACHT’s audience nearly fills Rough Trade, which has a capacity of 250. I can barely scope out a space by the bar. I feel like a proud mother.
When the trio takes to the stage, Evans gives the introductions, and quips of the band’s latest album, Chain Tripping, “I wasn’t gonna bring it up but it’s Grammy-nominated. I guess they let anyone in these days." While known for whimsicality, the band wears simple outfits for the performance — Evans, the lead singer and emcee for the night, dons all black, her platinum blond hair gleaming in contrast. Jona Bechtolt, producer, wears black and white stripes and stands to Evans’s right, alternating between roundtables and a guitar. Rob Kieswetter (also known as Bobby Birdman), a collaborator and YACHT’s additional touring member, is dressed in a black jacket and plays guitar during the show.
Many people in the audience seemed unfamiliar with Chain Tripping, which is understandable given its newness as well as its tone — heavier and more subdued than previous albums, it marks a break from the upbeat style of YACHT’s previous work. However, it is an extremely intricate album, with layers upon layers of sound mixing with Evans’ airy voice to create the techno-psychedelic-pop sound that only YACHT can ever quite achieve. The packed crowd responds well, dancing throughout the night as YACHT performs the album in its entirety.
What YACHT withholds in their costumes they bring forth through their background visuals, fitting for a group so highly influenced by and coyly critical of technology. When the band performs “California Dali,” the song’s title waves and pulsates across the screen in a retro VHS font. Later, the “Blue on Blue” music video plays in the background of the song’s performance. Demonstrating the band’s inventive relationship with technology, the video includes computer-generated images of the band members’ faces. A slide of text in the video’s introduction explains them as “hallucinated” faces based on “thousands of photos and 4K videos of [the band members’] faces as [they] moved through a range of emotions.” At times, I get so sucked into the visuals that I forget to watch the stage itself. While overwhelming in certain moments, the visuals succeed in immersing me in the concert, drawing the venue tightly around me.
YACHT does not shy away from politics in their music, discussing the perils of capitalism and advocating for women’s rights. This holds true during the concert, with Evans declaring, “THIS IS A SONG ABOUT ANIMAL RIGHTS!” before the band performs “Hard World.” In the background, the song’s music video plays, featuring cartoon anthropomorphic feet engaged in activities like driving to work in traffic and watching TV. The protagonist is a working-class male foot, dismayed by the mundanity of everyday life. On his way home from work, he hits every red light, while his smug neighbor in a flashy sports car hits all the green ones. In the last scene, the foot tries to kill himself, but the bullet slips in between his toes and misses.
This is awesome to watch, but largely distracting while the band performs in front of the video. Evans bemoans animal cruelty in her lyrics, singing, “the saddest thing about an animal is how quickly its death doesn’t matter. It’s a living, breathing being...and then a thing being swept down the gutter.” The band also gently prods at capitalism with “Sad Money” (“the song is called ‘Sad Money’ because all money is sad!”, says Evans).
Their “finale” (before two encore songs) is the band’s cover of “Le Goudron,” an atypical choice for the end of a show — “Le Goudron” is a surreal, apocalyptic song recorded entirely in French by Brigitte Fontaine in 1949. YACHT’s homage to Fontaine is seductive, electric, haunting, and impossible to sing along to unless you know French. Because of this, the moment belongs to Evans, as she croons the upbeat melody alone in her first and native language. This was, of course, amazing, but nonetheless, not enough to satiate the eager crowd.
The audience yearns for one song in particular: I hear someone behind me at the bar moan, “play ‘Psychic City!’”, a reference to YACHT’s hit track (24 million plays on Spotify), and the first song I ever heard by them. The band obliges and plays the encore, delighting the audience as we jump up and down to the dreamy, psychedelic tune and sing along to the wordless chorus. As soon as the song begins to play, the energy levels in the room spike. It is one of their happiest tunes (in title and content it beats “Sad Money” and “Hard World”). I remember listening to this song in years past during cold winters and sad times, and as everyone at the concert sings, “I told you your dreams would come true!”, a poignant, thoughtful warmth descends over the room.