The first time I saw the band Yuck perform live, I had never heard of them. They were simply the group warming up for Smith Westerns on a Friday night at a hole in the wall in downtown Nashville. I saw their name on the marquee above the venue and thought “Yuck” sounded weird and off-putting. When they took forever to set up on stage, I went from skeptical to hostile: “Who do these guys think they are? They’re just the warm-up act!”
But then something happened. The lights went down. No one applauded; like me, they were impatient and expecting very little. But Yuck started playing. They kicked off with “Holing Out,” and I was immersed in a sonic wall of fuzzed-out guitar wailing and 90s-style muffled vocals. It filled up every nook and cranny of the tiny venue. I turned to my friends, my eyes wide open in pleasant surprise.. One friend just smiled and nodded his head, pleased to no end. The other put his hands over his mouth, finding no words to express what we were experiencing. Perhaps we were overreacting, but here we had found a real something where we were expecting nothing. In my experience, the warm-up act had always been more or less filler music until the band you actually wanted to see took the stage. They weren’t necessarily bad or good, they just were. Occasionally you’d be surprised and the warm up act would be pretty decent, but then you’d forget about them by the next morning. With Yuck, though, it stayed with you. With the first chords they grabbed you and didn’t let go and didn’t slow down. Song after song, they nailed it, playing most of their debut album and closing with the cascading shoegaze slow-jam “Rubber,” leaving the stage while guitar feedback rang loudly off the walls. It was one of those concert experiences that will almost certainly never be replicated. I heard exactly what I wanted to hear without even knowing it. This unknown band of two British dudes, an afro-sporting drummer from New Jersey, and a seemingly out-of-place Japanese girl playing bass had shattered all expectations. We nearly forgot about Smith Westerns—they were upstaged in every way possible by their warm-up act. We bought the album immediately after the show, and the rest is history.
That was over three years ago. Since then, Yuck has gained some critical acclaim for their aforementioned self-titled debut album. They released a “deluxe” edition with six B-sides a few months after the initial album release. Publications like SPIN and Rolling Stone began to swoon over their catchy throwback style. They were playing festivals. I myself have seen them a second time as well, in Brooklyn, and this time they were the headliner. Again, they didn’t disappoint.
It’s hard to explain what it is that makes you love your favorite bands. Part of it is certainly the music. Yuck’s signature 90s throwback guitar style, complete with poignant lyricism and spectacular melodic delivery, is hard to beat in my book. The context also helps. When you can bring that love of a band together with a certain memory, it makes that love all the stronger. Perhaps this is what happened to me when I heard Yuck, as I took in their music for the first time with my best friends at a good point in my life. Whatever it was, it stuck with me. I can say with confidence now that the 18-track deluxe edition of Yuck is my favorite album of all time. I have been waiting eagerly for their next album, hoping I will be just as blown away as I was by their first.
But a couple weeks ago, some very sad news shook me. Daniel Blumberg, lead singer and chief songwriter of Yuck, announced he would not be joining the band for the recording of their second album because he wanted to “focus on other things.” I almost cried when I heard this news. This wasn’t fair! I needed a second album!
Over the course of the past couple weeks, I will admit, I’ve been deeply saddened by Daniel Blumberg’s departure from Yuck. Sometimes it’s like a cloud that hangs over my day. Sounds ridiculous, I know. And there are times when I’ve taken a step back and said to myself, “Come on, Tom, you’re being silly. It’s just a band.” And maybe I am being silly. After all, the band did announce that they were still going forward with the recording of their next album without Blumberg. There will still be music from Yuck! And yes, I am still optimistic. But, in a way, it’s not the same. Maybe, just maybe, though, that’s a good thing.
In a discussion with friends about my recent Yuck-related sorrows, I was reminded of a scene from the all-too-short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks, set in the 1970s. Jason Segel’s character was moping around school, head buried in his hands. When confronted about his mood, he announced that he was in mourning over Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s death. You could see it on his face. This was like the end of the world for him. His hero was gone, never to make music ever again. In a way, I felt like Jason Segel’s character. Something I had loved and cherished was gone too soon. Now the situation is not exactly the same by any means the exact same:. Blumberg is still alive and I assume the “other things” he will be focusing on are solo music projects. And maybe they’ll be good. And maybe Yuck’s next album will be good. But still, it’s not the same. That thing with which I had fallen so in love was gone and would probably never return, at least not in the same form.
The question is, why was it that I felt so down? I had experienced band breakups before, but for some reason this one stuck with me more so than any other. Maybe it’s because this one was so personal. Yuck felt like a band that I had discovered. I had watched their rise. I had met the band, shook their hand and told them I was a big fan. I had fallen in love with the album. Every last song. In a world where music listeners pick and choose their favorite singles and bounce from track to track without even the patience to hear all three minutes of a full song, I would listen to Yuck from start to finish, “Get Away” to “Soothe Me,” over and over until the CD stopped working.
My history with Yuck is engrained with a very distinct memory of high school, of a time of musical bliss with my best friends as together we watched the rise of those four musicians, the ones we had seen once in an earlier time when they took us by surprise and rocked our world. And now that Daniel Blumberg has departed from the band, that’s exactly how Yuck will remain. A perfect memory, like a picture frame I can pull out any time I want and reminisce about the good old days. I’ll listen and be happy. Yes, it’s sad that Yuck’s future looks different from what I hoped, but I still have to thank them for what they gave me, and hopefully what they will give me. It’s a great memory. It’s great music. What more can I ask for? Sometimes, good things in life come to an end. It’s sad, but it’s not completely sad. There was something about that thing that made it good in the first place, so remember it for what it is. A great album, a great friend, maybe a great moment. They’re little things, yes, and their passing was a real bummer. But, hey, at least the good thing was there in the first place. Hold on to it.