"Are you gonna catch me if I fall? Are you guys gonna catch me if I fucking fall?!"
That was Karen O's question to the dense SXSW crowd that came out to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Stubb's Wednesday night, where the band previewed songs from its forthcoming album "Mosquito" and also tore through hits like "Zero," "Gold Lion" and "Maps," the latter of which saw her teetering on the edge of the stage, threatening to either stage dive or collapse from excitement into her fans' arms.
It was that feeling of being one blink away from chaos that Karen O captured effortlessly throughout the set, parading around the stage in a series of colorful costume changes and props.
Strutting out onstage in a shiny gold Patricia Field-like take on a matador tuxedo (complete with FUZZ on the cummerbund) and carrying a shiny pink and purple pom pom, Karen O kicked off the set with "Mosquito"'s title track, an intense, howling rock song in which she threatens to "suck, suck, suck" an unsuspecting prey -- perhaps even the listener if they're not too careful. She swung her pink-corded microphone around her head like a tomahawk, and later during "Art Star" held it in her mouth hands-free while she caterwauled directly into it.
Much like the material on "Mosquito" itself, the set combined the raw, punk energy of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' earliest, pre-"Fever To Tell" shows and the more pop-friendly, dance-rock sound they've embraced in recent years -- albeit a bit rougher around the edges these days thanks to crunchier guitar work from Nick Zinner and tenser drum work from Brian Chase.
Karen O later switched into a miner's helmet for new album cut "Under The Earth," before donning a gold-studded leather jacket for current single "Sacrilege," in what was apparently the band's first-ever live performance of the ferocious, gospel chorus-backed song. The night ended with a celebratory "Heads Will Roll," in which the entire lawn could be seen jumping up and down at Karen O's "off with your head!" command -- even Jared Leto, who was spotted side stage near Billboard toward the set's end.
There may only be one Karen O, but the music industry could sure use at least 20 more like her.