Beer and Pavement

An Evening with Yo La Tengo

Posted in Live by SM on June 21, 2011

I hate posting two things on the same topic/event so closely together, but this allows me the opportunity to regain some followers as they see my rate of posts increase. Also, I hate to post simultaneously on two sites, but I’m doing it anyway as that other site pays in paper. This was last night’s show I previewed over the weekend. The hope here is to follow this with a beer review and who knows beyond that. Maybe I’ll eventually write that Spanish beer post I’ve been sorta promising.

Yo La Tengo and their wheel of fortune/fate/salvation took the stage in a partially-filled Blue Note last night. There might not be a more ideal summer show in Columbia. The audience was dominated by locals who were mostly old enough to have seen Yo La Tengo in the early and mid-nineties, not undergrads as the kids were home for the summer. Still, YLT just seemed happy to be there and played two well-received sets.

The first set was determined by said wheel. CoMo YLT fanatic Karen Truckey was virtually pushed on stage by friends to take a go at the wheel. However, guitarist/vocalist/organist Ira Kaplan added a twist. Courtesy of  Gotcha!, Kaplan revealed masks he and Truckey would wear for the ceremonial spinning. The “contestant” smartly opted for the Power Rangers helmet so as to avoid any rousing about furries and whatnot. Kaplan was left with a dog mask and the spinning of the wheel commenced.

The wheel started spinning at some point in 2010. Yo La Tengo had been together for over a quarter century and needed to spice up their live show. The wheel leaves a set or a portion of their set to chance. Possibilities include sitcom reenactments, sets consisting of songs that entirely start with “S”, a request/Q&A, etc. The wheel has allowed YLT sets to be free from repetitiveness and banality.

The wheel was finally spun after Truckey leaped onto the stage and masked were donned. For me, the worst would have been the sitcom reenactment. It’s been done and you can see it on YouTube. The second-least anticipated result would have been either part of The Sounds of the Sounds of Science soundtrack…and that’s what we got.

It’s hard to get excited for 20-30 minutes of music created to soundtrack a French documentary about fish, but it actually blew away that limited perspective. Employing a wall of sound built slowly from a simple keyboard progression, Yo La Tengo demonstrated chops to make beautiful noise not normally witnessed outside anything associated with Sonic Youth. The mini-set was explosive and powerful. It’s a wonder to watch Kaplan strum, beat, dangle, scrape, whatever to get the most perfect feedback. I’ve been witnessing it for almost twenty years and it never grows old. Sounds of Science was that rare moment when one of your favorite bands finds yet another way to impress you with something new.

The wheel set concluded with three Condo Fucks tunes. I assume the band picked up on the crowd’s preference for the material they recorded under the CF moniker and obliged with “So Easy Baby”, “With a Girl Like You”, and “Come on Up.”

After a brief intermission, the night continued with a proper Yo La Tengo set, a set that could be described as a “dream” or “ideal.” It opened with “Autumn Sweater” followed closely by the sprawling and beautiful “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven.” The somber “Tears Are In Your Eyes” and fan-favorite “Stockholm Syndrome” after that. “Beanbag Chair” and “Black Flowers” from I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass came next; the second of those two featured the forgotten vocal talents of bassist James McNew. Then, the band worked through an acoustic “Big Day Coming”, the groovy “Periodically Double or Triple”, the driving “From A Motel 6”, the ever-present near-hit “Sugarcube”, and the epic “I Heard You Looking.”

At that point, the Yo La Tengo faithful received their money’s worth. Still, YLT returned for an encore of the Tom Courtenay b-side “Bad Politics”, acoustic rarity “Alyda”, and the subdued and lovely “Center of Gravity.” The finish provided time to reflect and be content with the evening behind us.

In the conversations that followed our Evening with Yo La Tengo, several themes emerged. Ira Kaplan is a madman on the guitar, but tonight, he was restrained and provided just enough theatrics to enthrall his minions. James McNew is the steady bassist with surprising vocal chops that every band needs. Georgia Hubley has earned the distinction as one of indie rock’s finest drummers as well as the owner of a killer voice that soothes and fills a room without flash or bombast. But the impression that was most indelible is that Yo La Tengo is an ageless wonder who play with the same youthful fervor they did 15, 20, 25 years ago, not to mention their appearances demonstrate the same agelessness.

Yo La Tengo owned CoMo last night. This will be a tough show to top for some time. The kids don’t know what they missed.

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