Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
When It's Dark
Yo La Tengo and The Horse's Ha at The Opera House in Toronto
Frank YangIn my review of Yo La Tengo’s latest Popular Songs, I lauded the New Jersey trio for their unbelievable ability to deliver excellent album after excellent album over their 25-year career, and having seen them five times before Saturday night’s show at the Opera House, I felt comfortable thinking that same sense of consistency could be applied to their live shows. There’d be a handful of new songs, a brace of old standards and at least a couple unexpected surprises from deep in their catalog. Performance-wise, you could count on Ira Kaplan being alternately hilarious and irascible, be guaranteed a transcendent moment or two and assured of at least one jam would go on for far too long. I know more than one person who’s said, “I love them but don’t think I need to see them again” and it’s a fair statement to make. I myself was going to skip out on this show in favour of one of a multitude of other entertainment options available that evening, but the excellence of Popular Songs persuaded me to go back for more.
Excepting their Beautiful Noise taping last April (that season is now airing on SunTV, by the by), this past Saturday night was Yo La’s first visit back to Toronto in three years and taking place at the Opera House rather than their usual digs at The Phoenix, it was a cozier show than they’ve played here in some time – TV taping aside. As such it was sold out, 800 steadfast fans giving up the early part of Nuit Blanche (or avoiding it entirely) in favour of getting their eardrums massaged and having no second thoughts about it.
Support for the Canadian dates on tour came from Chicago duo The Horse’s Ha, whose pedigree includes Freakwater and The Zincs, and who’ve just released their debut Of The Cathmawr Yards. Their brand of Americana-folk was on the decidedly polite and proper side, dusty-sounding yet immaculately clean in its delivery. Jim Elkington and Janet Beveridge Bean’s voices worked well together, but it was more their supporting players that kept things interesting, offering a rhythmic, musical backbone that they didn’t let fly until later in the set, culminating in a decidedly rewarding shredding cello solo. The Horse’s Ha have got talent and power on hand, and would do well to loosen the reins a bit.
Here’s the funny thing about the list of Yo La Tengo live givens I rattled off earlier – they didn’t happen. It could be that as much as their fans were feeling their shows were getting a bit familiar to hear, the band thought it was getting a bit familiar to play so just as Popular Songs seemed to take every Yo La song template and offer something new in that mould, their live show would also benefit from such a makeover. The set was far heavier on new songs than I’d expected, making up fully half the main set and as such the show felt simultaneously fresh and comfortable and when the band did reach further back into their extensive catalog for numbers like “Big Day Coming” or “Stockholm Syndrome”, it felt like even more of a treat. I was especially pleased to hear “Black Flowers” make an appearance, it being my favourite track off I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass and sadly omitted from the set last time around. And the choice of encore covers this time out – a James McNew-sung Velvet Underground’s “She’s My Best Friend” and Devo’s “Gates Of Steel” – were also impeccable.
Beyond the marvelous song selection, the show benefited from a dynamic arc that felt new to Yo La Tengo shows. Past shows had felt like enjoyable meanders through their repertoire but this show had a more unified feel to it, starting out a touch restrained despite opening with the uptempo “Double Dare”, going gentle in the middle while inviting Georgia Hubley out from behind the kit to sing and then closing out big with a gloriously frantic and guitar-abusive “And The Glitter Is Gone” and sugar-buzzed “Sugarcube”. Throw in a perfectly casual double-encore – James had to remind Ira of the chords to the VU tune – and you had a glorious, and perhaps more importantly faith-restoring, Yo La Tengo show. “I love them, when can I see them again?”.
And oh yeah, Ira seemed to be in a great mood. Maybe that was all the difference.
Photos: Yo La Tengo, The Horse’s Ha @ The Opera House – October 3, 2009
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Here To Fall”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Periodically Double Or Triple”
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: The Horse’s Ha – “Asleep In A Waterfall”
MP3: The Horse’s Ha – “The Piss Choir”
Video: Yo La Tengo – “When It’s Dark”
Video: Yo La Tengo – “Nothing To Hide”
Video: Yo La Tengo – “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar”
Video: Yo La Tengo – “Periodically Double Or Triple”
Video: Yo La Tengo – “Here To Fall”
Video: Yo La Tengo – “Sugarcube”
Video: Yo La Tengo – “Tom Courtenay”
MySpace: Yo La Tengo
And if you’re wondering, trying to start Nuit Blanche at 1AM at Queen West and Yonge is quite possibly the stupidest thing you can do, and that includes live scorpions infected with bubonic plague. I got a good look at a lot of lineups before giving up and heading home. Oh, and I had some popcorn. Woo, art! Woo, culture!
Stream: The Flaming Lips / Embryonic
It’s getting/already gotten colder than any right-thinking person would like, but if you’re thinking there’s still time to take one last hop out to the Toronto Islands then do it next Saturday, October 17, and stop by the ALL CAPS! Island Show at the Artscape Gibraltar Point. It starts at 3PM, goes till 10 and features a bunch of acts including but not only Great Bloomers, Adam & The Amethysts and Snowblink. It’s $10 or PWYC and all-ages.
The Line Of Best Fit is offering a fifth volume of “Oh! Canada” series of downloadable Canuck mixes.
And if you’re one of those people who not only still has cable, but has those ridiculously high-numbered channels which seem to only show Law & Order reruns, check out channel 107 as aux.tv went on the air (well, the digital cable air) last weekend and features a slew of terrific music television programming that goes well beyond videos. There’s details on what the channel hopes to offer and how they’ll do it at The Globe & Mail and ChartAttack.