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Live Review: Yves Tumor @ Carriageworks

11 June 2024 | 2:10 pm | Shaun Colnan

Yves Tumor brings a much-hyped show boasting a stylish, punky exterior that colours their music with an otherness, an otherworldliness, a scene-streaked flair.

Yves Tumor

Yves Tumor (Credit: Jordan Munns)

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Australia is a long way from ‘civilisation’ – or at least where most musicians tour. So, it’s no wonder that when acts come out for festivals down under, they might not be at their spellbinding best. Touted as “unmissable” by The New Yorker, Miami-born Turin-based performer Yves Tumor stormed onto the Carriageworks Bay 17 stage, met by a wall of coloured light and an expectant crowd.

God Is A Circle hits you with a mechanical drumbeat and primal atonal bassline while the lights burn red and flash white. The intimacy of the studio vocals didn’t quite fit the cavernous space of the Carriageworks stage, which opened up for music as part of Vivid Sydney 2024. This driving electric track instantly catapults the audience into a collective tumultuous revelry. The deep guttural voice hooks you and swallows you in that sonic pit while flourishes from the showy guitarists with their choreographed show-and-tells pepper the soundscape.

Echolalia - taken, like the opening track, from the 2023 LP Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) - finds meaning and pull in its infectious stuttering, which must have inspired the title, which means ‘the non-voluntary repetition of another individual's speech’. Like many of Sean Lee Bowie’s songs, this song merges pop lyricism with a grungy aesthetic, all delivered on from the backseat of a car leaving the club, tinged with the new sun.

The red light dies, and a white light permeates the space. In Spite Of War - a twisted romance of heaven and hell where angels lie and lovers dress in the devil’s clothes - detonates with an uplifting hyperpop parenthetic chorus central to the song’s success, which plays against a storm of guitars and an alarming hook.

“You’ve gotta fix that feedback… It’s crazy… Fix that feedback for me, darling…” Bowie said, some of the sparing words delivered between songs. This before the band launched into the opening track from the 2020 LP, Heaven To A Troubled Mind: Gospel For A New Century - a far heavier rendition, bringing power chords to the front of the mix while Bowie sang the opening in falsetto.

Back to another showing from their recent release, Bowie sunk into Fear Evil Like Fire, perhaps the most spirited of the tracks, better than the studio version. Bowie offered a reversal, flipping the falsetto of the previous track and the studio recording of this track, favouring instead a deeper register. This added gravitas to the alternative pop piece, which took the airiness of the original and exchanged it for a more earthy iteration.

“You’re still a friend of mine… We met on Chapman and Catalina…” Something about this line draws you in and transports you to another time, another place. This feels like an homage, an ode. With Lovely Sewer, Bowie took a backseat and let the recording of Kida’s smooth voice play out while doffing the patented leather jacket. 

2021 single, Jackie, is in classic single style: a name as a titular hook, an endearing relationship told out through simple lyricism, and a repeated refrain. Yet, Yves Tumor innovates with the driving mechanism of percussion and the roar and squeal of the guitar. The tight red top, the leather pants, the thick sunglasses, the blue wig: all of it converges to present a stylish, punky exterior, which colours the pop music with an otherness, an otherworldliness, a scene-streaked flair.

Perhaps not quite unmissable in this version, there is something to this music. The unified aesthetic, which blends rock, psychedelia and electronica, makes for a compelling spectacle - especially presented on the visual media of TikTok and Instagram.

Yet, the live show - or at least this live show - doesn’t fully live up to the hype. Maybe it’s the world we live in where weirdness is marketable - up to a point. Maybe it’s the weight of cultivating an image. Maybe it’s the long-haul flight. The stage antics of performance powerhouses like Prince and Grace Jones (who Yves Tumor has been compared to) are pointedly missing in this performance.

Yes, the songs are catchy and interesting, hybrid and experimental in form, mixing 70s psychedelia, 80s rock and new wave, 90s pop, and recent hyperpop. Yes, the artistic force of the aesthetic is undeniable, and the drums hit you in your chest. Yes, Carriageworks is an amazing space that should be converted - at least partially - into a live venue/club for weekly events. But perhaps the hype was a little too much. Just an opinion. Just a Monday night in a wintry Sydney.