Friday, October 06, 2006

The story of Yo La Tengo

Saw Yo La Tengo at the Vic last night. My favorite band - I realized a couple weeks ago that I did actually have an answer for the "what's your favorite band?" question - puts on one hell of a show. As much as I love them, I'd never really noticed Ira Kaplan's guitar god status. Even their ten-plus minute noise-groove digressions rocked pretty goddamn hard, for the whole ten-plus minutes. The slow songs were painfully pretty, in their signature not-quite-ecstatic way. (To be a little purple - blue? - YLT's feedback-radiating grooves are structured as almost tantric sublimations of that pop music, hook-driven tendency towards ecstatic melodic resolutions, directing the pop instinct inwards on itself instead of outwards towards the feet and hips; it occurred to me not long ago that YLT is actually a groove band, except that they're the least funky - er, whitest, New Jersey-ist - groove band ever.) Their live sound was remarkably similar to their album sound(s), with the only noticeable difference being the total dominance of the strings over the keyboards. There were four instruments used on stage - guitar, bass, keyboards, drums - and both James and Ira played all four, Georgia played at least three (didn't notice if she played the bass as well, although she very well could have).

After nine well-played songs, including a quick and perfect "Stockholm Syndrome," they sent the crowd screaming when they tore up "Cherry Chapstick," followed by "Watch Out For Me Ronnie" and "I Should Have Known Better," the most energetic tracks of their 60s-inflected new album. The set's high point carried over into the next song, a transcendent "Tom Courtenay" (electric, sung by Ira). Three and a half minutes of blissful heaven. "The Story of Yo La Tango"[sic], their latest album-ending rave up and maybe their poppiest, brought the house down, starting off slow and swirly and suddenly surging forward with that driving energy they manage to keep up for the full however many minutes.

Their last song before the encores was Painful's marathon groove finale "I Heard You Looking." During Ira's guitar/noise/feedback performance, he got as theatrical as Yo La Tengo gets, going so far as to wave his guitar in the air - a cliched rock'n'roll move, to be sure, until I figured out instead that he was directing it towards and around the speakers, trying to orchestrate the speaker feedback (which he did amazingly well, as if he's been doing it for decades).

The band played three encores, with the third coming because they wanted to convene backstage to discuss their final song selection (they opened it up to the audience to decide between three tracks from Fakebook, and ended up with "Yellow Sarong" - a decision my own yelling and screaming had a little something to do with). Their encores were mainly covers, the only other one I recognized was "Speeding Motorcycle" - chosen by audience request, by which I mean there was one guy standing near me who was screaming "Screaming Motorcycle!!!" throughout the show.

And if anyone hasn't seen their classic "Sugarcube" video, I just want to say "I love you, YouTube."'

One of their encore selections they chose because their "friend Mark" (Kozelek?) was in the audience, which I'm assuming he wrote. On another, a Dream Syndicate cover, they brought another Rick Rizzo, who they'd "been playing with since before most of you were born."

Oh, and somebody - the "Speeding Motorcycle" guy, maybe - yelled out "I love you Georgia." Ira ignored him until he yelled it again, then looks up from the drums (he and Georgia were playing drums in tandem) and says: "Not as much as me."

How can you not love this band?

In case anyone is curious, now that I have an iPod I'm able to keep track of what I'm listening to the most. After the break, a short list of most-playeds.

Belle and Sebastian - I'm a Cuckoo
D.N.A. - Blonde Redhead
Orange Juice - Rip It Up
Flipper - Generic (full album, "Ever" most of all)
They Might Be Giants - Doctor Worm
The [English] Beat - Save It For Later
The Box Tops - Soul Deep
Yo La Tengo - River of Water
Cut Chemist - Lesson 4: The Radio
Brian Eno - The Big Ship
Otis Redding - Cigarettes and Coffee
Kelly Clarkson - Since U Been Gone
X - Adult Books
The Blue Hearts - Linda Linda
Double Dee + Steinski - Lesson 1 (The Payoff Mix)
Michael Hurley/The Unholy Modal Rounders - Griselda
Sonic Youth - Sunday
Kraftwerk - Trans Europa Express
Husker Du - Sorry Somehow
Bob Dylan - Workingman's Blues

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