I’m not going to lie, when I signed up to cover Yacht’s show at 7th Street Entry, I thought they were playing a different album in its entirety. I figured it’d been about ten years since See Mystery Lights was released, so it stood to reason (or so I thought) that they were touring the country on an anniversary tour. Everybody’s doing stuff like that these days, you know?
Sure, Ben, a lot of bands are indeed doing anniversary tours, but YACHT is not one of them.
I was also under the impression that YACHT was a pretty straightforward, run-of-the-mill indie band. But after a little pre-show research and then witnessing them play, it turned out I was wrong again. What did I learn?
- YACHT is in all caps not because they are so proud of their name that they’re yelling it. Instead, it is an acronym, which stands for Young Americans Challenging High Technology. Does that make them a concept band? What does that even mean?
- The band’s history is littered with demonstrations of their manipulation of the relationship between people and technology. In one instance, the cover art for an album was only accessible via fax. In another, a project to promote 2015’s I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler featured a video played only during rush hour in Los Angeles (which is pretty much all the time).
- Most recently, this has manifested by an album composed by artificial intelligence. At the risk of minimizing their great efforts on the most recent album, they used AI to generate music and lyrics based on their back catalog, then chopped all of that material into pieces to form building blocks for their songs. It’s a little like sample-based music, but the means of generating the samples is much more complex.
How does that translate into a live show? Surprisingly well, save for a few delays in between songs waiting for… something. They didn’t really say, but it appeared they were waiting for some piece of technology to load or restart. I’m guessing it has something to do with the AI generating the sounds they were manipulating, but they didn’t really say. Maybe it was just regular, old-fashioned electronic gremlins.
But it did give singer Claire Evans an opportunity to connect with the audience. At one point she announced an impromptu question and answer session with the band. Except there were no questions. A fan off to the side of the stage threw up his hands and yelled, “Play Psychic City!” Claire gave him a rather priceless look and noted that he’d made a request, and she was looking for questions, but thanks for playing.
Another audience member piped up, asking if they thought technology was ruining peoples’ lives. After a little deliberation between Claire and herself, she suggested that technology isn’t inherently good or evil, it simply does what it is programmed to do. Some technology sucks, but so do some people, essentially.
For all their love of technology, their lighting set-up was about as basic as it gets. It appeared as though they were operating with less than half of the house lights, all of which were set to plain white with no embellishment. It was almost sterile feeling. It’s funny, too, because during a subsequent between-song riff, Evans talked about how they were listening to a David Byrne audiobook on the drive up, which talked about his time touring with the Talking Heads. Apparently the Talking Heads had the lights on that tour set to be all white with no frills, nothing fancy.
“That’s pretty punk rock, you know?” She quipped. Then, almost as if she’d just realized that their lighting scheme matched, she politely asked that the stage lights be switched to red. Well played, YACHT, well played.