Yo La Tengo were exceptional when I saw them at Roseland last Friday night. Roseland is a tough venue to play, because it’s just so big (maximum occupancy somewhere in the range of 3500). That hugeness has ruined shows by punk bands who couldn’t command the cavernous ballroom, and has been wonderful when I went to see arena rock bands like Kings of Leon, who found the coziest arena they could.
But Yo La Tengo, neither punk nor arena rock, filled the space. They played it like a spectacle, with a lineup stuffed with band favorites (openers Susquehana Tool and Die), young rapscallions (The Black Lips) and mostly-famous comedians (John Oliver. You know, the British guy from the Daily Show), not to mention one of the most beautiful and appropriate visual shows I could’ve imagined. There was always a disconnect between the grandness of Yo La Tengo’s more epic music and the small spaces they played and light, crisp production on their albums. But seeing them, up on a big stage, with a wonderful sound system, surrounded by thousands of people, it felt good and, somehow, it felt validating.
As far as I see it, two kinds of noise groups came outta 80’s indie rock, those who wanted to have fun, and those who wanted to stab fun squarely in the throat. The latter group included Mission of Burma, The Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Fugazi, and Jawbox. I like those bands and some of them are really important to me. The former group, the ones who, as far as I can tell, had a sense of humor about the whole thing were bands like The Replacements, Superchunk, Drive Like Jehu (more so in spirit than in music), The Pixies, and Yo La Tengo. I love those bands. I think that’s because the noise was put to a different purpose in the groups who were having fun versus those who weren’t; the group who were having fun were using it to show us joy, excitement, and youth that the lyrics couldn’t; the group who were not having fun used the noise to take a nihilist axe to pop music; they were deconstructing, whereas the first group was building.
So you’ve got a whole section of loud groups who wanted to have fun, all of whom (at least the ones I listed up there) I love, but Yo La Tengo are different, because they’re the only one’s who are, well, in love. It helps that two of the band members, Ira Kaplan who sings sometimes and coaxes pterodactyl sounds out of his guitar, and Georgia Hubley who sings sometimes and plays the drums much better than I do, are married and have been for most of the band’s existence. James Mcnew, who also sings sometimes and plays bass and keyboards, I picture, as the couple’s best friend.
Yo La Tengo use the first person plural a whole lot in their lyrics. Whether the “we” and the “us” refer to the Ira and Georgia, or the band, or just young/eventually not so young people, its an effective lyrical turn. And their lyrics are simple but sweet, well thought out and genuine; cautiously excited. The band’s music brims over, while the three voices singing it hold back a bit.
The three tracks I’m giving you are, I think, a pretty good summary/ mission statement for the band.
“Big Day Coming” appears twice on the band’s 1992 album Painful. The version I’m giving you is the album’s first track, and the way it’s simple, slow ingredients (a repeated organ riff, a distorted guitar, and a voice) build to the anticipation of the title is extraordinary. There’s words of the song’s second verse, where Ira sings “Let’s wake up the neighbors, Let’s turn up our amps” and then “We can play a Stones song, “Sittin’ on a Fence”/and it’ll sound pretty good/’till I forget how it ends,” are both self effacing and exuberant. The song’s last image has two people walking down the street before sunrise, not talking, just holding hands, as the distortion slowly ivy’s out. The second version, louder and faster, suggests the day is closer than ever. I like the first version better, though, so you get that.
“Deeper Into Movies” is from the band’s best know, and possibly best album, I can Hear The Heart Beating As One. It’s the perfect example of Yo La Tengo use of noise, largely atonal guitar skronking, to create a feeling of beauty and closeness.
and “The Story of Yo La Tango” off their second-most recent album, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Kick Your Ass is 11 minutes of pure payoff. The song is one of the band’s most coherent songs, despite it’s massive length. When Ira sings “We tried with all our might,” the word’s don’t sounds apologetic, they sound triumphant.
And hey, everyone, this is my 100 post on this thing. I know I’m not mr. consistency by way of updating in a timely manner (or even when I promise I’m going to), and I know I’m CERTAINLY not mr. consistency by way of spell-checking/grammar checking my posts. But yesterday, about half of the view to this site were not from links or redirects. That means at least a few of you are actually checking the blog, without the help of the hype machine or skeemr or anything like that. As a person who spends a lot of time writing this thing, that means a lot. So thanks to anyone who’s read or commented on a post, who’s gone out and bought an album they heard a song or two from on the site, or who’s doing the same thing as me on their own site. Hopefully, at 250 posts, i’ll be rich enough to buy you all cupcakes and basset hounds in celebration.
Oh yeah, and tomorrow I both start my new job and move to Brooklyn so…probably no updates ’till this weekend.