On our freshman year pregame playlist there were always at least three staples: The Strokes, The Killers (it was 2005, cut me some slack) and Yale’s own The Harlem Shakes. Tonight at the Ivy Lounge, four years later, things come full circle as Yale’s indie rockers make a return to the Elm City and premiere songs from their much-awaited LP, “Technicolor Health.” At times like these, it’s hard not to get a little nostalgic.
To be honest, though, back when the Shakes were still on campus, the fact that they were a Yale band seemed almost incidental. My suitemates and I knew that lead singer Alexander “Lexy” Benaim ’06 and bassist Jose Soegaard ’06 were both seniors, and we would occasionally cross paths, but the real reason we played their music was because it rocked. Plain and simple.
Screaming along to a bootlegged copy of their single “Sickos,” downing whatever booze we could get ahold of that night, we were caught up in the song’s reckless nihilism. “If there’s a bomb in your hand just throw it. If your gun’s too hot just run,” the lyrics urged, and we would go out for the night cheerfully charged. Not to mention of course, sufficiently and cheerfully buzzed as well.
After the Shakes graduated that year, though, my friends and I were prepared to mourn the loss of another great part of the ever-changing Yale scene. Still, the band carried the banner and went on to self-release a short EP, which included the campus classics “Sickos,” “Carpetbaggers” and “Red-Right Hands.” The reckless and ebullient sounds of freshmen year, the hand-claps and bouncing keyboards, were immortalized on mp3 (R.I.P. vinyl).
In 2007, these sounds were revitalized as the band returned for what seemed like an endless cycle of encores, whether playing the JE courtyard, opening for Spring Fling or opening for Girl Talk. All this was in between touring with other indie powerhouses such as Beirut and Deerhoof.
Then, of course, things slowed down as the Shakes appeared, despite their success, to come to a turning point that we will all face after graduating — get a job or stick with the dream. As they put it lightheartedly on their Web site, the band went on hiatus while one member had a stint with another band, another member got married, another went to France and another, Lexy, tried his hand at writing “the great American memo.” Soegaard, meanwhile, was said to be busy “eating burritos” — about as good as any plan I have for after graduating. An album was promised for 2009 but it seemed unlikely and far-off.
For doubting them I should be shunned. The other day I was sent a track from that long-awaited album, “Technicolor Health,” and it’s clear that the Shakes have found new focus not just in their mission but also in their music. The sounds of 2005 have been revamped. Saxophones wail and drums pound as Lexy’s charming warble of a voice finds new strength and the band rocks with abandon. So when the Shakes return for their performance tonight at 10 p.m. in the Ivy Lounge, I urge you to down whatever booze you can get ahold of and join in the indie-pop revelry. And of course, don’t forget to check for their album when it’s officially released on March 24. You can’t bursar it, but it goes to a good cause.