Longtime Band Drops Two-Hour Set on a Monday Night
It’s hard to know where to begin with a group like Yo La Tengo (pictued by Matthew Salacuse), given probably more rave critics’ words have been lavished on them than money has been spent buying their CDs (or downloading their music or whatever). They’ve been around for 22 years now, so either you have some sense of who they are or you probably don’t care and no further amount of saying how great they are will change that.
If so, that’s your loss.
Last night at the Henry Fonda in L.A., Yo La Tengo played an over two-hour set of both smooth and crunchy for fans hungering for both. (As an aside about how YLT rates, they played three shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco, and only one in Los Angeles: draw your own conclusions.) On the quiet songs, the crowd hushed so much that you could have heard a cell phone vibrate, but none did.
On the loud songs, everybody vibrated, but no one more so than Ira Kaplan, who was his usual mild-mannered self taken over by his inner guitar hulk hero, seemingly in synch with his amps for every possible eek, grak, blat, and zomp of feedback. That is when he didn’t hip-check his poor Strat into the mic stand for an occasional extra shading of metallic shards to shoot through the songs. Or when he started a monumental set-closing version of “Blue Line Swinger” (it’s back in its rightful place in the set list) with five-minutes of playing squatting on the floor, mistreating his guitar and paddling his pedals, making gorgeously fearsome blasts of noise.
For there’s no getting around it, you have to like to see the boundary between music and chaos muddied to like YLT. The show was anchored by the two onslaughts that bookend their new, delightfully, derangefully diverse CD I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (as Ira said, “I can tell you like applauding for the name as much as we like saying it”): “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” and “The Story of Yo La Tango.” Both songs give Kaplan so much guitar room to move that he actually swung his axe about madly at one point, as if trying to signal to Carlos Beltran of his beloved Mets not to take strike three.
Walls and roils of stuttering stupendous sound come out of Kaplan’s extended solos, yet James McNew on bass and Georgia Hubley on drums keep the songs steady, if at a mad hum, and Kaplan himself nicks and teases the melody just enough he never rockets off into playing only for himself. Plus all the gyrations are quite a show. Sure enough, this is a band that can take a Sun Ra cut, “Somebody’s in Love,” and turn it into something like the Everly Brothers from a sweetly harmonized encore.
And assaults aren’t the only trick up the band’s sleeve. “Pass the Hatchet” was immediately followed by “Our Way to Fall” which omits the “in love” in its title but doesn’t in its sincerity and sentiment. Kaplan sang it so softly and sweetly it’s more a prayer than anything someone should share with concert-going strangers. Smack-dabbed against the early noise attack, the song seemed yet more fragile, and suddenly life seemed more complex. Or at least this concert seemed more like life.
Openers Why? (pictured) also amused. A three-man band that plays three-times as many instruments, many percussive, they herk and jerk their way through songs with titles like “Dumb Hummer” and lines like “always working on a suicide note.” If you ever wondered what They Might Be Giants, Philip Glass, Grandaddy, and the double drummer version of Pere Ubu might sound like dropped into a musical blender, don’t ask what, but Why?
Contributor George Yatchisin runs his own website too, so check out “I’m Not One to Blog But…”imnotonetoblogbut.blogspot.com at