01 February 2011

concert review: yo la tengo


Last Saturday night indie rock veterans Yo La Tengo played a sold-out show at the legendary Tipitina’s uptown. This stop in New Orleans was a little more than halfway through what one could call a kind of “concept tour.” Nowadays, when Yo La Tengo play shows, they usually consist of some choice numbers from whatever their new album happens to be, and then some choice numbers from their expansive (and awesome) back catalog and arsenal of covers; but they decided to change things up a little bit on this go around. The Hoboken, New Jersey trio played a typical set, but only after they did something a little outside of the box. Here’s the premise: the first thing they do is bring a “Wheel Of Fortune” / “The Price Is Right” / “Insert other game show here” style wheel onstage, then they pick an audience member to spin it, and whatever space it lands on dictates the first 45 minutes of their set. The options are as follows:

- A show from their garage rock alter-ego band Condo Fucks
- A set of bassist James McNew’s solo project Dump
- A musically-interluded Q&A sesh with the audience
- A set of YLT songs comprised only of songs that include people’s names
- The band and crew’s reenactment of a classic sitcom
- A set of songs that start with the letter “S”
- A live performance of music the band composed for the film The Sounds Of Science


Right before the wheel was spun, when the band was going over the options, they made a few offhand remarks about how they hoped the “The Freewheelin’ of Yo La Tengo,” their name for the Q&A sesh with the audience, would not happen, so, of course, that was the one that the wheel decided to choose for them. There’s a lot of potential with an option like this, meaning potential for quality questions with informative responses, as well as potential for dumb questions and disinterested answers. Unfortunately, the result leaned more towards the latter on Saturday night. Topics covered included Sarah Palin, Jersey Shore, and favorite ice cream flavors (which sadly, was probably the best one). Both the audience and band seemed to grow slightly frustrated, so suffice it to say, when the band’s real set finally rolled around, everyone was in a much better mood. Here’s to Yo La Tengo carrying on and making phenomenal music, and not showing up on Game Show Network anytime soon.

Yo La Tengo delivered. Their timeless music really comes to life in a live setting. It was mesmerizing to watch bassist James McNew and drummer Georgia Hubley effortlessly play such laid back, lovely rhythm grooves, with guitarist Ira Kaplan fucking shredding on top of them. It might be no mistake that their lyrical content oftentimes tackles issues that come to the surface in long-term relationships, demonstrating that even over a strong foundation all kinds of raucous, unpredictable conflict can occur. This juxtaposition of quiet and loud really defines Yo La Tengo, and is a key reason why they’ve been around for over two decades. Stand out songs included the delightfully bluesy “Periodically Triple or Double” from 2009’s Popular Songs (their most recent LP), classics “Sugarcube” and “Beanbag Chair,” then a killer cover of “Bad Politics” by Dead Seas. All members got a chance at the mic, which offered an intriguing look into an already dynamic band. Yo La Tengo are living legends, and despite a few nominal issues, everyone in attendance on Saturday bore witness to an excellent show put on by a band who consistently has, and continues to, etch their names into the history books of music.
- Article and Photos by Connor Crawford

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