Miles Away: Explore a dream gig of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Ted Leo at the First Unitarian Church in 2001

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs | still from video

The maddening thing about music from the post-internet, pre-social media aughties: it is woefully under-documented in the digital ephemera of today.

This is after guerrilla videographers stopped hauling bulky camcorders to shows and before digital cameras were capable of filming anything that wasn’t a pixelated mess. This is when concerts were photographed mostly on film, and the photographers maybe didn’t have enough time to get five HQ scans of their images, much less fifty. This is the era of tours still being plotted and shows still being logged on paper, and maybe those notes have not yet been transferred with any sense of definitiveness to Setlist.fm (if they exist at all anymore). This was before Friendster even existed, much less MySpace, much less Facebook.

That’s why we have to say things like “what appears to be Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ first Philadelphia concert,” since we’re not 100% certain they didn’t play at least once before this gig on December 16th, 2001. By the time I eventually saw Karen O, Nick Zinner, and Brian Chase tearing up the basement of the Church in spring of 2002, opening up for fellow NYC noise popsters Girls Against Boys, they already had a local reputation for asskicking after headlining local DJ and writer Sara Sherr’s celebrated women-forward Sugar Town party at The Balcony (which took place that January, I think?).

These rough and rowdy videos date to the end of the previous year, though, and in them we see a 23-year-old Karen O strutting the stage with the same charisma and confidence that we still see in her gigs today. She spins, kicks, snarls into the mic, and generally exhibits a commanding demeanor for any rock and roll frontperson — to say nothing of being a rock and roll frontperson at the beginning of their journey.

And the look: she might not be rocking the leather jump suits or ornate outfits of later-era YYYs shows, but she’s still ahead of the fashion curve, sporting a studded belt, tight black jeans, a striped shirt, and a VU shag cut that would become the de rigueur uniform of indie kids two years later.

Backed by Chase’s propulsive percussion and Zinner’s frenetic guitar playing, which sweeps from noisy skronk to high-precision riffs and back, Yeah Yeah Yeahs were loud, wild and endlessly watchable. In these videos by Joseph P. Traina, the band plays music from its first two EPs: the title track to 2001’s Machine, as well as “Miles Away,” the penultimate song from 2001’s debut Yeah Yeah Yeahs. 

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Miles Away from Joseph P. Traina on Vimeo.

The best thing about this gig? Yeah Yeah Yeahs were opening for Rainer Maria and headliner Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Holy dream lineup! The former was still on the road in support of its 2000 record A Better Version of Me, while the latter had just released its barn-burning sophomore album, The Tyranny of Distance, which many (myself included) regard as its best.

According to this ancient gig report from Pop Matters, Rainer Maria was in rare form that night, in that bassist and lead vocalist Caitlin De Marrais had blown out her voice the night before. The band played, but without De Marrais, showcasing either deep cuts or unreleased jams where guitarist Kaia Fischer takes lead. And while we can’t track down any videos of their set, we did find this video of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists doing “Dial Up” on Traina’s Vimeo channel. Watch it, rage to it, and if you were at this gig, let us know your memories in the comments.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Dial Up from Joseph P. Traina on Vimeo.

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