One person's volcanic punk queen is another's pesky screecher; such is Karen "O" Orzolek's divisive effect on her audience. Confronted with her gale-force presence, more than a few of the Brixton crowd look as if they're thinking twice about the whole thing.
Little wonder, because O doesn't do gigs so much as confrontations, and tonight's starts with Bang!, a single whose chorus runs "As a fuck, you suck." Naturally, the women in the house are enchanted, and while the boys squirm, some emulate the O dance, which culminates in rolling around the floor, yapping violently. With a murky, feral guitar/drum backbeat mixed in, this, in a nutshell, is a Yeah Yeah Yeahs show. It's an acquired taste, but enough have acquired it, via 2003's highly praised debut album, Fever to Tell, to fill the 4000-capacity Academy for two nights.
Since the group emerged from the same New York boho scene that produced the Strokes, O has acquired a reputation as a Warholian mix of trash, flash and art - think Debbie Harry without the charm or the songs. But while she is indisputably compelling, inspiring a full complement of ripped fishnets and assertive eyeliner among the fans, she runs up against the limits of her repertoire surprisingly quickly.
You can excuse the adenoidal yelp and its animalistic permutations that stand in for a voice; you can indulge the spaced-out banter ("London, ooh! Brixton, ooh!"). But the accompanying theatrics - every song ends with O on her hands and knees, writhing and sobbing - lose their voyeuristic allure before you can say "Not another swampy garage-rock number about sordid sex".
Still, at least O is taking a position, which is more than you can say of most of her contemporaries. When the shrieking halts long enough to expose the classic pop melody of Maps and the slow-drone pulse of Modern Romance, the music turns out to be pretty good, too. Ones to watch, probably.