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
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?
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