Wednesday, October 4th, 2006
The Story Of Yo La Tango
Warning – there will be NO ass-beating plays on words in this review. None.
Declaration one – I love Yo La Tengo. Declaration two – I’ve never really enjoyed a live show of theirs. I’ve seen them twice, and both times they were meandering, self-indulgently jammy and generally not very entertaining. There were moments of greatness both times but on the whole – and it’s a large whole, they play LONG – more disappointing than transcendent. But considering those tours were in support of their two snooziest albums (And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out and Summer Sun), a rock spectacle probably couldn’t be expected. But with their latest record I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass being a terrifically eclectic slab of all that makes Yo La Tengo great, I was actually excited about their show at the Phoenix Monday night. Third time lucky and all that.
I knew nothing about openers why? (proper case and punctuation essential) before actually seeing them take the stage and while for whatever reason I expected the worst – possibly because some reviews of earlier shows from thoroughly non-credible sources weren’t very kind – I was quite pleasantly surprised. The trio created folk-pop that sounded like it was being viewed through a broken kaleidoscope. Their songs were, at the core, quite accessible and pretty but they sounded like they were built with one leg shorter than the other, such that they staggered and lurched most entertainingly, but also completely intentionally. They also drew a pretty sizable number of fans who were probably there just to see them, judging from their enthusiasm. Pretty impressive all around.
I’ve decided that the best way to gauge a Yo La Tengo performance is by how they pull off “Blue Line Swinger”. First time I saw them, they weren’t bad but I recall they dragged out that song for what seemed like hours, most of that spent on the drums/organ intro. It went from hypnotic to tedious to almost excruciating. Second time… well, I don’t really remember if they played that one (thus harpooning my theory) but they did drag out “Nuclear War” for, again, what seemed like hours. I appreciate the fun in saying “it’s a motherf*cker” endlessly, but not so much for the audience. But Monday night? “Blue Line Swinger” was perfection – for that song, and really all the jammy/noisy numbers, everything was stretched out to just the right length, never getting overly self-indulgent or out of control, and balanced perfectly with the compact and upbeat poppy numbers and gently beautiful acoustic/keyboard ballads.
Though the set list didn’t draw exclusively from Beat Your Ass, it did reflect the eclecticism of the latest record (which in turns is an excellent microcosm of the band’s career) as well as its overall greatness. It was quite amazing to watch them shift so seamlessly between roles, instruments and styles and all so effortlessly and naturally – a more versitile and talented band you’re not likely to find anywhere. But best of all, I think, was the fact that the band seemed to be in a jovial mood and quite happy to be there – not something I’d have said about the previous shows. Ira, in particular, was chatty and engaging with the audience and didn’t at all seem like he wanted to beat… ahem.
But I am very pleased to be able to say that after many years of trying, I’ve finally seen a great Yo La Tengo show. Which means I’m one step closer to being able to die. Which probably isn’t something I should be aspiring to. But there you go. Photos from the show aren’t great – the lighting was a bear – but there is a new MP3 available courtesy of Ampcamp. It’s a James-sung tune and one of the highlights of the new album, if not the band’s entire discography. It’s that good. And no, they didn’t play it on Monday. Alas.
Photos: Yo La Tengo, why? @ The Phoenix – October 2, 2006
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Black Flowers”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Beanbag Chair”
MySpace: Yo La Tengo
Wow. $177.50 USD. That’s amazing, thank you. Taking a cue (again) from rbally, here’s the receipt of the donation to the Pat Spurgeon Kidney Benefit courtesy of Rogue Wave. Thanks to everyone who bid, got the word out and to Chris in Calgary for the winning bid.
Server was down this morning. Sorries.