Beer and Pavement

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.

Upgrades in Production

Posted in Records by SM on May 4, 2011

One way bands try to evolve their sound is by upgrading their production. Some do this by hiring a better producer[1]. Another technique is to step into a higher-end studio. Pavement tried this on multiple occasions[2], but the songwriting and performances were the constant. So, even when a band makes this upgrade in production, they still have to bring solid songwriting and dynamic performances.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart hired the legendary Flood as producer for their sophomore effort, Belong. The result is something closer to Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins rather than in-their-prime Smiths. Flood’s effect is striking and significant, but is it a good thing?

I don’t know that The Pains’ songwriting is up to the caliber of a Flood-produced record. That’s not to say that the music isn’t of high quality or that whatever Flood touches is gold. What it means is that this is a typical sophomore record to a pretty successful indie release. Debut records often capture the immediacy and naiveté of a young band, but follow-ups tend to come off as overly-calculated[3].

What the record does do is suggest a new direction or transition for the band. Left behind is Manchester jangle in favor of a bolder, sharper sound. Sadly, this kind of production is distracting to me[4]. I’ve had a hard time getting into the songs on Belong. The simplicity of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s debut doesn’t hold up to lush production like this. He isn’t called “Flood” for nothing as he fills every crack and crevice of tape with loads of sound and texture. It’s certainly an interesting album from an audiophile’s standpoint, but I’m struggling with the organic elements that seem to be missing.

Overproduction isn’t always the enemy. Wilco, Animal Collective, Destroyer, etc. have found ways to make it work, sometimes to the point of deconstruction[5]. However, these acts all have something The Pains lack: maturity. The band may sound like their from 80’s Manchester, but their songwriting suggests otherwise.

Conversely, Times New Viking actually stepped inside a recording studio for once and may have found a way to develop their material in a manner appropriate to their collective age. The band usually resorts to bedroom tapes and audio via VHS in the recording process as a way to include their fourth member, tape hiss[6]. For Dancer Equired, the Columbus, OH trio enlisted a real-life recording studio and the results are better than I expected.

Another legendary lo-fi band from Ohio once made a similar transition to a bigger, more polished studio sound with regrettable results. That band was Guided By Voices[7]. TNV has followed the GBV trajectory by putting out shitty recordings on a label specializing in lo-fi[8] before hitting the greener pastures at Matador. The two bands are often compared, but there is little similar outside of both bands being Buckeyes and famous for recording lo-fi gems galore.

Still, TVN’s decision to record like professionals was a good one. I always thought they had good songs, if you could hear them through fuzz and hiss. On Dancer Equired, the sound is certainly cleaned up, but it’s not a giant leap to Flood-like proportions that would have overwhelmed the band’s charm[9]. Instead, the minimal production feels right for this band. It’s a slow progression to accessibility that allows Dancer to be appreciated here, even if some would rather turn their back on the band[10].

Where The Pains made a quantum leap from recording studio to super-producer, Times New Viking simply left their bedroom for a recording studio. Little changed aside from that missing tape hiss I mentioned earlier. The recording is not that clean and the performance isn’t much cleaner, but the shimmer of good pop/punk rock is clearer than ever. This album is not a leap, a transition, or a shift for the band. It’s what they do, only you can actually hear it without distortion. And what I hear is what I always thought I was hearing: fucking great rock ‘n roll.

Some expected that Times New Viking would blow us away with epic songs over Flood-like production, but that’s not who they are. They’re from Ohio. That’s how we roll[11]. It’s not midwestern mediocre, it’s authentic. It’s good. Why mess with it? TNV will someday do a polished and epic studio album. It will either impress or tank. Until then, I’m confident that this is exactly the sort of album Times New Viking is built to record.

Don’t assume that just because I prefer Dancer Equired to Belong that I think less is better when it comes to sound production. There is a time and place for almost every band to go hi-fi or expand their studio horizons. Times New Viking understand where they are on that continuum. It made more sense for them to just get themselves into a studio, no need to overdo it. Alternately, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart overshot the mark with Flood behind the mixing board. They’ll adjust and either develop their songwriting and playing to match the production or take a step back and just jangle a bit[12]. The key is to match the production with the performance. In this regard, Times New Viking hit the mark with their upgrade from bedroom recordings to a proper studio album.

Notes:
1This is usually tied to a large amount of (monetary) success. You make a ton of money and your or your label decide a name producer is the next logical step.
2Well, sorta. They generally worked with similar people recording and mixing, but production typically fell on the band, until Terror Twilight and Nigel Goodrich’s contributions.
3Bands figure that they captured something on the first record and now they have to recreate that, burn it and start over, or both. Instead, what a band should do is just keep making music. Too many bands try to hard on the second record. Some never recover. (see Interpol)
4Sometimes, the distraction of an overly produced album is fine, especially if the music can actually match the production value. Chavez’s Ride the Fader comes to mind. That record is my favorite headphone album of all-time. The production is so dead-on and big, but the music matches perfectly.
5Deconstructing songs often works the first time around, but after a while, it’s just mental masturbation.
6There’s also a growl when they get loud. The tape his doesn’t bother me as I loved my mixed tape days. There are so many records I only know with tape hiss, that it’s hard to imagine that it won’t always be around.
7OK. To be fair, GBV’s “studio” albums contained some great songs, but the production value suggested they were suddenly trying too hard to be rock stars instead of just being the rock stars they are/were.
8Siltbreeze in TNV’s case and Scat in GBV’s case.
9I really don’t remember why I put this footnote here. Maybe I intended to explain The Pains’ charm as having a British quality, much like the Smiths or something. Of course, they’re from Brooklyn, so they don’t have an authentic British charm…moving on…
10As someone pointed out, this is not the first time Pitchfork has turned its back on a band it touted. This is so effing hipster. (see “On Pissing Contests“)
11I recognize that I’m not in TNV. Hell, I’m not in any band, but lo-fi is something in which Ohioans take pride, at least Ohioans my age…who happened to listen to the same music I did.
12British charm alert!