Video Fridays: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

For this installment of Video Fridays, I was inspired by a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, their 2003 debut hit Maps, a song that I’ve loved for a while, but then I saw the following live acoustic version and it knocked my socks off all over again.

I thought it would be interesting to post both the acoustic and the original electric versions here for comparison’s sake, but it took some time for me to decide in which order to post them. Ultimately, since one of the pleasures of hearing an acoustic version of an electric song that you know well is noticing the differences — how the instrument choices, playing technique, and in this case the vocal delivery are changed to suit the arrangement — I figured I’d start out with the original for the sake of anyone who isn’t familiar with the song.

There are two notable things about this video:

  1. The story goes that Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer/songwriter Karen O wrote the song for her then-boyfriend Angus (Maps is an acronym for My Angus Please Stay), at a time when the relationship was on the verge of breaking up, and on the day they shot the video Angus was supposed to be there, he was three hours late, Karen went ahead with the performance, not knowing whether he’d show up or not, and the result is incredibly moving. It seems at the beginning that she has her eyes fixed on the back of the room, still hoping Angus would arrive, she tries to carry on but you can see it’s a struggle, holding on to the microphone as if it was a lifeline, and then, at around the 2:50 mark, she’s overcome and the tears are real. Just.Wow.
  2. Musically, drummer Brian Chase’s syncopated beat is trance-inducing and he brings some awesome power to the crescendos; and guitarist Nick Zinner is frickin’ amazing, building an incredibly lush sound that makes you forget that it’s just him and that there’s no bass player.

And at last, the acoustic version, which doesn’t require nearly as much of an explanation. Nick Zinner plays a sweet-sounding Martin guitar, adapting the main power riff into a beautiful, gentle arpeggio, and Karen delivers a subdued, melancholic vocal, still full of sadness, but also a touch of resignation and even acceptance that Angus is never coming back.

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