Yo La Tengo are the anti-hype band. Twelve albums into their career the Hoboken crew continue to gather new fans but never lose one. Unlike other acts with such a large back catalogue, Yo La Tengo don’t have an entry point, they don’t have a definitive album. Each record they create is paradigm shift to the one before and each is a classic in its own right.
Opening with -Pass The Hatchet I Think I’m Goodkind’ the Tripod in Dublin is assaulted with a noise odyssey ‘¦ and it feels good. Ira Kaplan throws his guitar around like poker-hot rain stick; manipulating and torturing it as his wife Georgia Hubley and band mate James McNew support with regimental percussion. It’s a transfixing spectacle lasting close to fifteen minutes.
The follow-up falls slightly flat. -Avalon or Someone Very Similar’ is a tremendous tune from this year’s classic, Popular Songs, however Kaplan’s vocal is shaky and after the sonic attack of the epic intro the move to alternative pop takes getting used to. The mood lifts with -Periodically Triple or Double’. It’s a beat-deficient, bluesy, motown, 60’s pop number that somehow manages to make reference to Judge Judy. Kaplan replaces guitar with some whacked out organ and there’s an amusing dramatic pause before each shuffling rhythmic breakdown.
Looking at this New Jersey trio perform is invigorating. They are so completely raw and unpolished and play with the energy and enthusiasm of any teen garage band; which they could pass for if you look at them through squinted eyes. Perhaps what keeps them so fresh is there constant change of styles both in their recordings and their performances. There doesn’t seem to be a set list. Instead they dip into genres and past albums on whims.
James McNew (everyone’s favourite member) pulls one out of I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. His lead vocal on -Stockholm Syndrome’ is deeply melodic, soft and soulful. The band go lo-fi with fragile and wistful tunes from And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. -Tear Are In Your Eyes’ in stunning. Georgia rather nervously takes centre stage for -The Last Days of Disco’. Show stopping tunes but the air-con rumbled on and sound at the back was reportedly poor.
An airing of the falsetto-led, joyfully upbeat -Mr Tough’ finds James going all Bee Gees while Ira takes to piano. It’s a comedic number, something Yo La Tengo are good at. They don’t converse with their audience too much but when they do its always with great mirth. Ira jokes about being safe behind the barrier and wryly rebukes one punters cry, ‘Come On Everybody’.
There’s a heavy version of -Big Sky’ from their debut Ride The Tiger and Electr-O-Pura gets a look in with -Tom Courtenay’.
Ira raises the musical question ‘Is it true?’ with -If It’s True’. Something of a squabble between the couple, it is dysfunctional pop with choppy jazz drums and funky keyboards. They share vocals and Hubley is like Nico to Kaplan’s Lou. Things remain pop with the cosy, leftfield anthem, -Autimn Sweater’. As brilliant as these tunes are, at a live show it’s the epic (yes, there’s that word again), hypnotic, freak-outs that bring them up a level. -More Stars Than There Are in Heaven’ starts with a chugging guitar line and accumulates into something spell-binding and warped. The build up to -I Heard You Looking’ is awe-inspiring. They have a natural bending rhythm; the tempo and force of which they play changes seamlessly with a synergy that’s mesmerising.
During the encore they bow to a request for their version of The Beach Boys’ -Little Honda’. Ira starts on guitar, he continues to play even as he hangs the guitar on Gil the soundguy’s neck before passing on duties as he joins his wife on drums. It’s all very uplifting and the grins and laughing continue during -You Can Have It All’ as the crowd retort with ‘Take It Baby’. Hilarity ensued.
Hyped about? Maybe not. Tonight Yo La Tengo performed 20 odd songs spanning over 20 odd years show-casing impeccable song-writing with depth of character and un-waning skill and we couldn’t get enough of it. Appearing in the pages of The FADER magazine is probably not a priority for these guys.
Photos by Loreana Rushe.