In April 2013, London shoegazers Yuck announced two pieces of news via their Facebook page: they were about to record their second record and, in a surprising twist, frontman Daniel Blumberg was leaving the project to focus on quote-unquote “other things.” This brought about plenty of comments from fans, concern over Blumberg’s departure ranging from general confusion about who would be handling vocals in his absence to posts making liberal use of a word rhyming with the band’s moniker. No, not “duck”.
People were confused but the band soldiered on and changes were made. The lineup shifted with guitarist Max Bloom picking up main vocal duty and guitarist Ed Hayes joining the band to round out the quartet of bassist Mariko Doi and drummer Jonny Rogoff. Yuck then released Glow & Behold in September 2013 to fairly mediocre reviews. Critics weren’t saying the record was bad, but argued it was missing the excitement of their 2011 self-titled debut.
Indeed, there is something missing from the band – particularly in a live setting. That’s not to say they don’t draw a crowd, as Toronto’s Garrison was pretty squishy for Yuck’s first performance in Toronto since September 2011. But I’d also argue that it doesn’t have much to do with the departure of Blumberg. The problem is: Yuck just doesn’t make much of a live impression.
Case in point: I was at that September 2011 show at the Horseshoe Tavern. And I completely forgot about it. Nothing. I don’t have a single memory of it. For all I know, they played completely naked and at triple speed. Now I know I go to a lot of shows and they tend to roll into one giant ball of general concert-going experiences – but I can usually remember something about a specific act when pressed. With Yuck? It’s a mysterious void. So yes, it’s a good thing I took notes while at their Garrison show because I fear their more recent appearance wasn’t much more interesting.
They sounded fine, to be fair, but with Yuck there’s an almost complete lack of connection between the band and its audience. It’s awkward to watch and you could get just about the same sonic experience by staying in the comforts of your own home and listening to their records.
Yuck came on stage and quickly launched into the opening riffs of “Middle Sea”, a track from their sophomore record. The song itself contained an impressive instrumental breakdown and a good showing of harmonies between Bloom and Doi. “Holing Out”, off of their debut, was big on energy with a fantastic guitar riff – sounding like it could fit within Green Day’s Dookie-era catalogue – but on stage, the band looked bored.
Okay, maybe not bored, but certainly nestled somewhere between uncomfortable and (as lame and existential as this is going to sound) like they weren’t actually existing in the moment. And that’s the problem. They’re perhaps so focused on getting through their songs and delivering a sonically strong set that they forget there’s more to live performances than hitting notes and cues. They desperately need to find and work out that balance.
Bloom appeared to be trying, but he’s clearly still in the early stages of side-guy thrust into the spotlight shtick. His stage banter was awkward and stilted, one memorable line being: “We played the… Horseshoe… Yeah. Do you remember? Was anyone there? Cool.”
Nevertheless, the audience was still appreciative of getting to hear the band’s older offerings. “Get Away” was well received with its attention-grabbing guitar line; “The Wall” had a big start and got the energy up, featuring bassist Doi on lead vocals (who delivered it with her deer-in-headlights approach to the microphone); and the encore-ending sing-along of “Georgia” was a strong way to end the night.
The newer material also came off well. Camera phones were held aloft for the slower “Nothing New”, Bloom picking up an acoustic guitar for the number, and “Another One” – a song they’ve only played four times, Bloom explained – was actually one of the night’s stronger offerings.
So, I don’t know. I’m conflicted on this show. Because I feel like I should like Yuck (and indeed there are things to like,) but I also feel like there’s not much point in seeing them live due to a complete lack of stage presence.
I was also left with the sense the band knows they’re in a strange spot in music and in their career. Essentially they’re reshaping their band and they’re reestablishing themselves. They’ve done well to not simply come off as a Yuck cover band, but they’re certainly not on sure footing as their own independent beast.
Before launching into an off-kilter but well-delivered cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent”, Bloom wrapped up the band’s on-stage relationship pretty nicely himself, saying: “Thanks a lot for coming. We really weren’t expecting that many people.” They need to start expecting people since they’ve got music to back up interest. But more importantly? They need to start actually playing to them.