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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Possible Yo La Tengo Set List

Posted in Live by SM on June 18, 2011

Yo La Tengo are set to play Columbia this week. This will mark yet another favorite band from my past make the long journey through the Show-me state since I moved here six years ago[1]. I might not be able to see the Loaf reunion tour, but I will get to see YLT Monday.

A Yo La Tengo set is a thing of beauty. Currently, the band has incorporated a game show-style spinning wheel loaded with a wide array of possibilities for their sets. The band once famously acted out an entire episode of Seinfeld simply because the wheel told them to do so. Even with this little gimmick, a Yo La Tengo set is one that fully exploits both the scope and sequence of the band’s repertoire[2].

With this in-mind, I’ve attempted to make a few predictions about Monday’s set. I won’t begin to predict what the wheel will suggest, but I think I can make ten safe predictions for the rest of the set.

1. Yo La Tengo will play some combination of three of their “hits”/most loved songs. This means that the band could launch into their latest single “Nothing to Hide” in which the video featured Times New Viking playing the part of YLT in a Columbus, OH record store. More likely, this portion of the set will include some version of “Sugarcube[3], the radio-ready “Cherry Chapstick“, or the subdued and lovely “Stockholm Syndrome.” I hope “Autumn Sweater” makes an appearance.

2. Yo La Tengo will play at least one cover song you won’t expect. As far as the ones you might expect, there is “Nuclear War“, “Little Honda“, “Speeding Motorcycle“, “The Whole of the Law“, or any number of covers they’ve made semi-famous. This band could easily make a living as a cover band who takes requests as their knowledge of pop and rock music is unmatched. My money is on “Take Cover”, the Big Star cover at the conclusion of Summer Sun. Big Star somewhat famously recorded a live record at the University of Missouri in 1993. Of course, the track doesn’t appear on the Big Star album. So, we might get another Big Star tune in the set[4]. Or something like this…

3. At some point, Yo La Tengo will stretch a song out for an extended jam that will either leave you breathless of bored. Many a YLT song already fill this niche without supplement as they are upwards of 8, 9, 10 minutes long. If the band does finish with “Nuclear War”, who knows when it will end. However, one should realistically expect one or more of the following to be played: “Big Day Coming“, “Blue Line Swinger“, “Spec Bebop“, anything off And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, “Let’s Be Still“, “The Story of Yo La Tango“…I could go on and on. These are just a few tracks the band already stretches into jam sessions on their records. They may very well stretch any song from their discography into a 15-minute epic trip through shoegaze land.

4. Yo La Tengo will play at least a second cover[5], possibly something newer and more obscure. I’m betting a Times New Viking song makes it into the rotation. This is a left field forecast, but I have a hunch that the band will play something newish that they’ve been listening to, possibly by a band with which they’ve been touring. It may also turn out to be a Teenage Fanclub song as Norman Blake was set to be a part of the bill but had to drop their tour at the last moment.

5. One extended jam will spiral out of control, completely deconstructing before our eyes. Additionally, Ira Kaplan will convulse uncontrollably on his Hammond B3 organ or guitar[6]. Songs that may earn this treatment include “False Alarm“, “My Heart’s Reflection”, or possibly anything from that Condo Fucks record, in which case it will be an extremely fast deconstruction.

6. One of Yo La Tengo’s more gimmicky routines will rear its ugly head. Most likely, the song fulfilling this prophecy will be “You Can Have It All” where Ira and James McNew do a dance routine and Georgia Hubley plays keyboards and takes lead vocals. This honor could also go to “Nuclear War” where the band creates a drum circle on stage to perform the Sun Ra classic before marching their way to the back to the venue as an encore.

7. At some point in the set, there will be a pop block[7]. This means that a selection – probably 3-4 – of the band’s poppier fair will make a showing. This could include a nice ditty like “One PM Again” or something more ambitious like “Here to Fall.” Either way, this should be the portion that will win over the more skeptical members of the audience. I suspect “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House” will win a few folks over.

8. There will be at least one really obscure track from Yo La Tengo’s vast discography. This is the kind of stuff that fills old hats like myself with eager anticipation. Of course, these will also be the songs you’ll hear that drunk dude in his mid-to-late-thirties scream for all evening. Although they’ll play something old and obscure[8], I suspect they won’t play everything I want to hear. My list includes “False Alarm”, “Decora“, “Barnaby, Hardly Working“, or anything with “Hot Chicken” in the title.

9. Being that the show is scheduled for a hot and steamy summer night in Columbia, I expect a slow, summery kind of section in the YLT set. The band writes songs that were meant for summer evenings on the porch, sipping a beer. “Pablo & Andrea” is one of those songs. “Autumn Sweater” is another. “Our Way to Fall” is a third. Let the summer of cicadas[9] roll on.

10. The last prediction has little to do with individual songs but is sort of a summary of the previous nine predictions. Monday’s Yo La Tengo set will include way more than the tracks off their last album, Popular Songs. The album came out two years ago, meaning their newest material is relatively old. So, I expect a set filled with songs from various points in their 27 year history. Sure, it will probably be heavy with songs from this century, but I won’t be surprised to see a smattering of songs from the previous two decades as well.

Notes:

1There’s no official list, but Archers of Loaf and Sonic Youth are the only two bands that come to mind I haven’t seen in the last six years in Misery. Loaf doesn’t look promising, but Sonic Youth should come through at some point. I wanted to see SY in StL a while back, but the planets just didn’t align.
2Of course, as mentioned before, I haven’t seen the band perform in over six years. Who knows what kind of set they play these days. As with most of my heroes, I just hope they’ll throw me a bone for a few songs. Otherwise, I’d be happy with a set heavily leaning toward their recent releases, particularly Popular Songs as it is their strongest effort of the last ten years.
3There are both fast and slow versions of this song out there. I’d be happy with either or some combination of the two. Hell, even a mid-tempo version would be cool.
4I am not that familiar with Big Star’s discography. So, whatever BS song they play will be somewhat new to me.
5I admit that this is a copout, but I’m basically suggesting they’ll play a cover you recognize and one you won’t.
6Actually, he may start dry-humping the equipment. I’ve seen him do this on numerous occasions. Somehow, it always sounds incredible.
7YLT have a portion of their repertoire that nods to the likes of Cat Stevens, Elvis Costello, and Harry Nillson. This might not be what some people consider pop, but the music these artists (among others) have created fit better in a pop context than they do rock or anything else. YLT have this same pop sensibility…when they’re not shoegazing.
8In this case, “old and obscure” really refers to anything from the early or mid-nineties. It’s easy to forget that was 15-20 years ago. Many kids weren’t listening to YLT back then. Hell, most of them weren’t even born really.
9Apparently, the cicadas around here were deafening. Luckily, I missed the worst of it. I also missed the local ice cream parlor’s cicada ice cream and my neighbor getting accosted for using a power saw that tricked many a cicada into trying to mate with him.
10This is the hidden footnote with no link above. Sorry for not posting at all this past week. I wanted to, but I fell asleep in front of the TV every night since returning from Spain. I finally feel as though I’m getting my blogging legs under me again. I may have a beer post coming up and will definitely let you know how this show went. For a truer preview, check out what Tina Roselle wrote over at the mother ship.

Image lifted illegally from Three Imaginary Girls.

CoMusic Filler: The Walkmen & The New Pornographers

Posted in Live by SM on May 2, 2011

I apologize for posting so late. Last night’s big news and a nasty cold I’ve been fighting was keeping me from being productive. Plus, I had blog posts that were due for two different blogs higher on my priority list. The post below was for the Collective. I have more to say and could possibly add footnotes later, but for now, this is what I saw/heard.

How many New Pornographers does it take to change a lightbulb?

As previously mentioned here, The Walkmen and The New Pornographers both graced the stage at The Blue Note Friday evening. As a Walkmen fan, I worried that the crummy turnout at the last two shows they played here would happen again Friday. Luckily, it did not. People turned out, but I don’t know how much they actually enjoyed themselves.

Let me be clear. Both bands put on excellent sets.

The Walkmen put on their typically solid set of songs, mostly from the last two records, but some old favorites were mixed in as well as some new, yet-to-be-heard songs. They were business like to match their business casual attire. Despite doing their job, the set moved efficiently and had energy. Highlights included a strangely tuned piano on “We’ve Been Had,” the previously mentioned new songs, and “The Rat” actually wasn’t the last song of the set.

The New Pornographers contrast The Walkmen in every possible way, but they balanced the night out with a good set of their own. Sadly missing was Dan Bejar, the best songwriter of the group, but we can’t get everything. Neko Case was there, pleasing many young men (and women) in the audience, garnering at least three offers of marriage. I had previously seen the band at the much larger Pageant in St. Louis where their set felt artificial, staged. Squeeze the Canadian supergroup onto the Blue Note’s tiny stage helped create a much more intimate setting, actually adding to the band’s pop-heavy energy. The New Pornos are a sharp group that put on a good show.

One thing both bands have in common is an unassuming, yet undisputed rock star leading the way. The Walkmen have Hamilton Leithauser, the tall, lanky, raspy-throated frontman who provided the prerequisite witty banter between songs. For the Pornos, they technically have three or so leaders. However, Dan Bejar, as mentioned above, was not there and Carl Newman just doesn’t seem to want that role. Neko Case was the rock star on hand Friday night. She held down her spot in front of the mic with tambourine in-hand. Sadly, the poor acoustics of the Blue Note did her voice no justice, but that’s another complaint for another post.

Despite all this alt-star power in the building, the Blue Note crowd was fairly apathetic. I can’t really figure out why the Note lacked energy. Two of the better touring acts come to our little college town on the same night, put on great sets, and it was a Friday nights should have meant an electric atmosphere. Sadly, that was not the case as many stood with arms folded. It could have been the questionable sound, the warm temperatures (I sweat in the Blue Note from April to October), or I completely misread both bands’ sets. Either way, let’s hope the CoMO crowd wakes up the next time two bands of this caliber play our favorite venue.

Placeholder: CoMusic Filler

Posted in Live, Uncategorized by SM on April 11, 2011

Sorry for the filler. I meant to continue and wrap my beer story, but it wasn’t meant to be. I ran out of time and this last beer has me moving a bit slow. So, I’ll repost this weekend’s CoMusic bit on the Blue Note. Stay tuned this week as I will wrap the beer story and may even do more work on that list of beliefs as a response to whatever Pizza writes. I feel bad as my numbers were soaring at the end of last week and all I have to answer that is this little piece of filler.

The Blue Note in colder times.

A one-time vaudeville porn and sci-fi theater, restored in 1980, The Blue Note is Columbia’s primary venue for national touring acts. Name the band, they have probably played the Blue Note. Now in its 31st year, the venue on North 9th Street is the place one goes to see bands such as Bright Eyes, Yo La Tengo, New Pornographers, The Walkmen, and Yeasayer…or at least that’s where you’ll be going for these (and other) shows in the near-future.

The highlight of the Blue Note’s lineup usually happens every spring and through the summer for the annual Ninth Street Summerfest where 9th is blocked off between Broadway and Walnut for bigger and better-known acts. I’ve personally seen The Flaming Lips and Wilco at these outdoor shows. Some of the outdoor gigs are even free, depending on the band set to play.

Bright Eyes is headlining the venue’s 31st anniversary show, but the Summerfest list has yet to be revealed. This weekend Explosions in the Sky hit the Note Sunday evening.

Even if you miss these gigs, you’re likely to find something that fits your schedule on the Blue Note’s site or their sister venue, Mojo’s.