Tuesday, April 8th, 2008
May I Sing With Me
Photo by Frank Yang
How strange is it that of the three shows I’ve got lined up this week, all feature double-bills with acts that could each easily headline on their own. Of course, last night’s show featuring Yo La Tengo and British Sea Power at the Berkeley Church doesn’t technically count as a double bill since they were being recorded for separate episodes of Beautiful Noise but from the POV of the audience, it was a pretty terrific few hours of music without having to move an inch.
British Sea Power got the nod to go on first and led with a solid block of selections from Do You Like Rock Music?, executed in grand – and loud – fashion. After their mildly disappointing set at our Hot Freaks party at SxSW, it was exciting to see them come out with a set that did the new material justice. It’s hard to define what was present now that was lacking then, but everything seemed to come across with more authority, more forcefulness. Better sound, better atmosphere. Whatever it was, it started out strong and gained more intensity (and seemingly volume) as the show progressed and when they stepped away from the Rock Music material via “True Adventures” from Open Season and culminating in an exhilarating “Spirit Of St Louis” and a finale that I couldn’t identify. Some of the on-stage antics like the shoulder-climbing, handstand walking and whatnot may have seemed a bit perfunctory but they were still entertaining and got a great response from the audience. And will look great on TV, I bet. Consider me not so disappointed that I’m missing them at Lee’s on May 16 when they return to town for a more conventional show.
After all that, I had to wonder how Yo La Tengo was going to follow up that spectacle. Though their last album I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass was a welcome step back from the rather narcoleptic stylings of their previous couple records, they’re still not necessarily your first pick when you need some hot rock injection. As it turns out, they went the other way completely, bringing their “Freewheeling Yo La Tengo” tour format to Toronto and opting to play seated, mostly acoustic and with as much talk as tunes. They invited the audience to ask questions of the band, leading to entertaining discourses on the quality of television, the Juno soundtrack, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the New York Knicks and Rush, among other topics. Considering that Ira Kaplan’s stage demeanor has usually been on the prickly side whenever the band has played Toronto, hearing him as chatty and charming as he was was a treat.
As was the musical component of the show. Not knowing that they’d be doing things mostly unplugged, I’d been a bit worried before the show about how jammy the band was going to be feeling – I’ve found Yo La live to be a bit of a crapshoot as the breadth and depth of their repertoire is such that they could play whatever they felt like, and if they were feeling noodly… But no, within the context of the show they stuck to their poppier numbers – often recast and rearranged in revelatory fashion – and with the quiet atmosphere, the beauty in their collective vocal work really shone through. And lest things get too sedate, Kaplan had his acoustic run through a distortion pedal that still let him unload the skronk for the likes of “Sugarcube” and via a frenzied solo in “Little Honda”, coax sounds out of an acoustic guitar that it was never meant to make. They played (and talked) for over an hour and a half – far longer than I’d expected them – and by the end of it had turned in the best show I think I’ve seen them play. I do wonder if the fact that it was recorded for television kept them from delving too far into the dustier corners of their closet for material – gotta play the “hits” after all – but all the impromptu requests and covers (which can’t be broadcast) made it pretty clear they weren’t sticking to any sort of script.
Both this show and the MMJ one last week were really special experiences, thanks to the environs of the church and the amazing performances. I’m eager to see the finished broadcast shows for these and the ones I missed, whenever/wherever they air, though it’s a shame that so much of it will have been edited down for time. My thanks to the producers for letting me run the contests for guest list spots and I hope everyone who went to tapings this week had a great time. Bring on season four!
NPR has a radio session with the band available to stream. The photo above is taken from Yo La Tengo’s last proper Toronto show, back in October 2006. You know it’s not from this show because Ira a) has an electric guitar and b) is standing up.
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Beanbag Chair”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “The Summer” (live on KEXP)
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “I Feel Like Going Home” (live on KCMP)
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Little Eyes”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Don’t Have To Be So Sad”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “From A Motel 6”
MP3: British Sea Power – “Waving Flags”
MP3: British Sea Power – “No Lucifer”
MP3: British Sea Power – “Atom” (edit)
MP3: British Sea Power – “Please Stand Up”
Video: Yo La Tengo – “Sugarcube”
Video: Yo La Tengo – “Tom Courtenay”
Video: British Sea Power – “Waving Flags”
Video: British Sea Power – “No Lucifer”
Video: British Sea Power – “It Ended On An Oily Stage”
Video: British Sea Power – “Please Stand Up”
MySpace: Yo La Tengo
MySpace: British Sea Power
Chart and BlogTO talk to The Jealous Girlfriends who, if you missed them opening for Nada Surf at the Opera House last night, will be back in town on June 3 at the El Mocambo opening for Sea Wolf. They also did a show for MTV Live yesterday evening but that information really doesn’t do anyone any good at this point. Their new self-titled album is out on April 22 and a copy of it will be winding its way to my ten lucky contest winners very soon… as soon as I pick them. Been busy, sorry.
Ms Queen-of-the-Junos Leslie Feist hasn’t even played her sold-out May 13 show at the Sony Centre and she already has another date lined up for November 3 at the Air Canada Centre. Hey, remember when she played those three NXNE shows at the Reverb, the Mod Club and Sneaky Dee’s? Those were the days.