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Yves Tumor Suggests New Possibilities for Rock at First Ave

The unclassifiable experimental rocker flaunted charisma and daring Saturday night.

11:39 AM CDT on May 15, 2023

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Yves Tumor appears on stage like a rock god from days past, in studded leather, sunglasses, and glittering boots, but they speak to us from the future.

A Miami-born and Tennessee-raised critical darling, Tumor (they/them) is in the midst of a tour in support of their new album, Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) which expands upon the wide-ranging, experimental sounds established on their four preceding full-length albums. At the First Avenue Mainroom on Saturday night, Tumor used the language of rock to preach a gospel of possibility, and the audience was receptive as a choir. 

For those of us who have, at times, felt the entire genre of rock had been played out, Yves Tumor presents an antidote. Live, their recorded songs become something more dynamic, their edges all sharpened. Tumor’s voice is richly textured and coarse, and many songs ramped up into extravagant guitar codas, brilliant flourishes that don’t always appear on the albums.

In fact, Tumor’s albums can be haunting and uncomfortable. But live, those disturbing aspects are softened by the collaborative experience, creating a magical fever dream full of exuberance and vulnerability. 

At first, Tumor felt a bit stand-offish at First Ave, creating a divide between themself and the audience, but that remove slowly melted away as the show progressed. Soon the haunted spirituality of Tumor’s recorded music gave way to a generous and buoyant live show. 

While Yves Tumor’s music and style is often compared to the glam rock of David Bowie’s early years, or even the Afrofuturism of Sun Ra, there's also the influence of 2000s emo. That bombast showed up during “In Spite of War,” with its yearning melodramatic chorus of “I just wanna know, will you be by my side?” This was Prince—if Prince had been a Thursday fan.

But Yves Tumor doesn’t just rehash old forms. Their music has familiar components: sultry vocals, thrilling guitar, haunting samples, driving drums, bass lines you feel in your spine. But Tumor creates something new from those familiar building blocks. There’s a metaphor here about possibility.

Tumor embodied casual cool as they sang “Fear Evil Like Fire,” yet there was something wholesome in the performance as well. As they sang “Heaven is a place we all have,” their words allowed us something like a heavenly space in this room.

The band was tight, lively, present. During “Lovely Sewer,” aided by vocals from bassist Gina Ramirez, Tumor seemed to break open, bouncing around on stage grinning. That song, with its spacey vibes, transitioned well into “Honesty,” where Tumor took a platform stage-right, set with three microphones with vocal filters, looking every bit like an alien helming a spaceship. And at the end of “Licking an Orchid,” Tumor playfully wrapped their body around that of guitarist Chris Greattii, erotically playing Greatti’s instrument from behind.

Greatti, in his hair-metal glory, threatened to upstage Tumor’s at points. The guitarist’s epic finish to “Meteora Blues” filled the venue with riotous energy. Even the bass on the song felt turned up to 11, a bass line to rule us all.

For the slower, more introspective “Parody,” Tumor sat down on an amp stage left, backlit in high contrast black and blue as the song built and built. The wailing finish brought the energy up, and it stayed there for the frenetic and pulsing “Secrecy is Incredibly Important to Both of Them.”

For “Operator,” Tumor stepped up to their stage-right microphone platform, their spaceship, taking us on another journey to alien terrains of feeling, a place of chaotic collaboration, as the singers of openers Nation and Pretty Sick popped onstage for the climax. Nation’s singer jumped into the crowd to surf, while Pretty Sick’s bounced onstage as the band chanted the final lines of the song, the traditional cheer “Be aggressive! Be! Be! Aggressive!”

Yves Tumor, too, hopped off the stage and into the photo pit, staying there for the next song, “Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood.” For this darker, funkier song, Tumor stood on the barricade, leaning out into the crowd, as hands reached up to touch them as if for a blessing.

After “Strawberry Privilege,” Tumor tossed something into the crowd that appeared to be a sleep mask—they’d been wearing it as a headband. They paused and realized they didn’t want to give that away, and cajoled the crowd into passing it back, promising a vinyl, a T-shirt, any merch they wanted. The crowd acquiesced, and the mask was passed hand-to-hand back up to the stage. Then Yves faked them out, cocking their arm back to throw it to the other side of the crowd, before placing it back on their head instead. This playfulness continued during “Ebony Eye,” as they faux choked guitarist Greatti, then climbed on the drum riser and humped the kit, their hips rocking as the drummer Rhys Hastings continued to play. When the song was over, Tumor smooched Hastings.

For the show’s final song, “Kerosene!” Tumor spoke from atop the drum riser: “Can y’all sing this shit? I don’t remember the words.” They pointed the mic out towards the crowd, which sings the opening lines. Tumor flopped around the stage, their glittering boots hanging over a monitor. They mostly didn’t sing this song, letting the instruments and crowd handle it. Greatti came over and straddled Tumor. Then Tumor got up and sang the final chorus before putting their sleep mask over the eyes of Greatti, who riffed an epic finale with his eyes covered.

And then, the house music kicked on—there was no encore. Yves Tumor jumped back down into the photo pit and walked the barricade, shaking hands down the line, before slipping away, leaving the crowd rattled and heaving.

Setlist

God Is a Circle
Echolalia
In Spite of War
Jackie
Gospel for a New Century
Fear Evil Like Fire
Lovely Sewer
Honesty
Licking an Orchid
Crushed Velvet
Meteora Blues
Interlude
Parody
Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood
Secrecy Is Incredibly Important to the Both of Them
Ebony Eye
Kerosene!

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