On a chilly November night, Yelle sits on a bench, huddled up in a big black coat inside Kantine am Berghain. The room she’s in is all post and beams and glass windows that peer out into the greenery of the surroundings. It looks more like a swanky Scandinavian countryside living room than a concert venue lobby in the middle of Berlin. She’s away from the main stage where her sound mixers test the speakers by blaring No Doubt’s “Hollaback Girl” on repeat, and the fog machine goes off in random spurts, prepping the ambience for the show later that night.
With a new album, “Complètement Fou,” produced by superstar producer Dr. Luke and released in September, Yelle’s excited to be back in Berlin to put on a brand new show for the first time in almost three years, and no less on the grounds of the famous Berghain nightclub.
“I’m very curious about the venue,” she says, gazing out in the direction of the monolithic building looming large a few meters away. “We’re planning on hopping inside after the show.”
Having just finished playing shows in the USA, she’s excited to now be touring her home continent. “Being from Europe, it was a great experience to play in the US. The crowds there are generous. They’re into it and they give a lot.”
On the flipside, in a city known for its clubs, nightlife, and its inhabitants’ proclivity to dance many a night away, German crowds at concerts can sometimes be stiff, preferring to stand at a show with arms folded, in seemingly deep contemplation instead of enjoyment, instead of letting loose and getting down.
But Yelle’s not worried about the crowd’s potential response.
“I like the challenge of Berlin crowds and making people dance,” she says. “If they feel like you’re having fun, they’re more likely to have fun too.”
And in fact, there was never any need for her to worry. From the very beginning of her set, when the opening beat from “Unillusion,” a song on her second album, “Safari Disco Club,” dropped, her show was a hair-tossing, foot-stomping, body-jumping, throw-your-back-out dancing, rollicking good time.
Offstage, she’s down-to-earth, thoughtful, calm, and earnest. When she can’t immediately remember the name of the band that influenced her current, high energy live show, she puts her head down, presses her hand against her face, willing herself to remember. She wants to get it right.
It takes a minute, but then it comes to her. It was The Talking Heads.
“On this tour, I wanted [the stage decorations] to be minimal. For the guys, I wanted symmetry on stage and two drum sets.” The coordinated and indeed symmetrical choreography, outfits, and drum kits of her band members contributed immensely to the enjoyment of the show, eliciting loud cheers from the audience. Where Yelle was the free spirit, the guys in her band were the methodic, grounding rhythm to her freestyle moves.
“I’m a big fan of Kate Bush and her style in general,” Yelle says. Despite feeling inspired by Bush’s influence, she acknowledges it’s difficult to be front and center on stage alone. “I never try to copy anyone. I try to have fun, be confident, and dance a lot. It’s confidence that makes the difference. And trying things.”
During her set, that confidence showed in both her vocals and dancing. Wearing a dress covered in what looked like bright, multi-colored yarn tassels that swung and swayed as she danced, highlighting her energetic moves, her confidence as performer came shining through. The audience lapped it up, and then gave it right back to her.
The crowd’s chants and ear-deafening screams set the stage for her doing not one, not two, but three encores. They couldn’t get enough.
Throughout an 80-minute set that included an even mixture of songs from all three of her albums, audience participation was at a high that never came down—from the audience creating its own dance party, to the bartenders joining in by pushing the bar’s red overhead lights so that they swung in rhythm to her beats. On the ceiling above, large chunks of peeling paint added to the illusion that Yelle was quite literally tearing the roof off the place.
When she wrapped up her last encore with the title track “Complètement Fou,” she told the crowd: “It’s a pleasure to be back here tonight.” And we couldn’t help but believe her.
Regardless of whether or not the infamously tough Berghain bouncers gave her any trouble getting in to the club, the Berlin crowd couldn’t wait to let her in and didn’t want to see her go.