Rock stardom, like anything worth taking seriously, has everything to do with control: curating it, taking stock of it, relinquishing it at the appropriate times. So few artists these days (at least artists that have accrued an impressive following like that of Yves Tumor and Its Band) seem to exert such a thorough understanding of the bounds of their own sonic and social control that Yves Tumor has– which is why, in 2023, their glamorous stage presence and general cultural aura and their magnificent discography have been likened to that of pre-social-media-era-titans David Bowie, Sun Ra, or Prince. I saw them on tour for their most recent album, Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) on October 12th at the Wiltern, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Here’s why:
I am a huge fan of Yves Tumor. Yves Tumor shows are uniquely erotic and their music is uniquely tactile. At an Yves Tumor concert, you want to touch the band, you want the band to touch each other, you’re pandering to the person next to you, you’re feeling like you’re hearing the music for the first time, you’re wondering if this might be the last time you hear this kind of music again. There’s so much want just pooling in the crowd of fans at those shows that the slightest graze of a pinky, the slightest cock of the hip on behalf of the guitarist or lead singer makes people nutty. And the thing about Yves Tumor is that they’re not a band that expects the crowd to fawn over the slightest gestures of the pinky or the cock of a hip.
At every Yves Tumor concert I’ve ever attended, Sean Lee Bowie is crowd surfing, or Chris Greatti is doing something insane to his guitar, or Gina Ramirez is cradling her mic like a baby, or there’s some other physical approximation of violence or sex that drives people to an ecstatic and unbelievable frequency. It's that kinetic stage presence that keeps fans (like me) going to their shows again and again and again. It’s that texture of the air, of the music, that keeps reviewers (like me) using the words: “Electric,” or “Spellbinding,” or “Magnetic,” to describe the band, their sound, their bodies in space.
So, I’ve been thinking about this specific affect of Yves Tumor concerts because, at the Wiltern show in Los Angeles on October 12th, frontman Yves Tumor (née Sean Bowie) performed with his back to the audience for almost the entire last half of the show. Even during the call-and-response “Be aggressive! Be be aggressive!” in song “Operator” played, the audience screamed at the leather-clad back of Sean Bowie, who was facing the drummer the entire time. Despite the strange nature of the performance, everyone still loved it. New fans were raving about how good the show was when we were shuffling into the parking lot. Old fans were turning to each other, gushing, God, they do it every time! Really, is there another band today that could command a crowd with their back turned?
No, I say. There’s no band that could do that so easily. At the Wiltern on October 12th, as per usual, the crowd was under the band’s spell. Perhaps it was the night, or the time of year, or a spell of mid-tour lethargy, but the band didn’t feel like waving that magic wand too emphatically. I’ve seen Yves Tumor shows that left me speechless for their energy. This show rendered me speechless for a different reason– the usual verve was almost completely absent, and it still put the crowd in a trance. What other band could have their frontman cling to the edges of the stage, could have him perform three of the bands’ greatest hits with his back to the audience– and still receive a roaring, resounding applause? What other band do you think refuse to drink from that pooling, hot want in the crowd yet still deliver one of the most memorable shows anyone in the crowd had ever seen? Nobody. Only Yves Tumor.