Gig Review: Yo La Tengo

This piece originally appeared on The Thin Air

All photo’s courtesy of Fran Michel

Who: Yo La Tengo

Where: The National Concert Hall, Dublin

When: October 15th 2015

YLT 4

The last time I saw New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo live was in Dublin’s Tripod nearly six years ago. It was a night when all those in attendance bore witness to a barrage of unadulterated noise accompanied by a raw and energetic performance. What occurs tonight from Hoboken’s favourite anti-heroes couldn’t have been further from that night if it tried.

The quartet of Ira Kaplan, Dave Schramm, Georgia Hubley and James McNew casually enter the fray a few minutes after their scheduled start time, zigzag their way between various pieces of standing artwork and settle into position. Tonight’s set up gives off a noticeably laid back approach, something akin to an old school MTV Unplugged appearance, which is in stark contrast to the dimensions of the hall and its hallowed boards.

They kick off tonight’s performance with a cover of NRBQ’s ‘What Can I Say’, whereby Hubley’s hushed tones and the twangy acoustic plucking of Kaplan indicate the subdued vibe the foursome will undertake for the remainder of their set. With Kaplan on acoustic guitar, McNew standing just as static as his upright bass and Hubley positioning herself behind her pared down kit, it falls to Schramm to be the sole element of animation for the duration of Yo La Tengo’s set.

YLT 5With over half of their new record Stuff Like That There containing cover versions; it’s in no way surprising to see that tonight’s set relying heavily on songs written by some of Yo La Tengo’s idols. There is a hint of Belle & Sebastian during their take on Darlene McCrea’s ‘My Heart’s Not In It’, while the slow burning pace of The Special Pillow’s – who include McNew on their releases – ‘Automatic Doom’, only springs into life when Schramm gets his chance to strut his lead guitar chops.

Kaplan points out that “there’s a fly the size of an aircraft hangar on my drink!” early on, while there is a disagreement of sorts with Hubley, as they jokingly squabble whether The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’ falls under the new wave or gothic banner. They then give said classic a folk induced make-over, which unfortunately doesn’t really hit the mark and may have made some boys cry!

McNew then steps up for a rather exquisite rendition of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, which contains more zest than everyone of its predecessors, while ‘The Ballad of Red Buckets’ highlights the band’s seamless ability to switch from a somewhat lacklustre slumber into a garage jam band in the near blink of an eye.

YLT 3After a twenty minute break the band return yet Hubley’s low croon on Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonely I Could Cry’ and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s  ‘Butchie’s Tune’ sees the quartet retreat right back into their sombre shells. Kaplan continues his whispered vocal gambit during The Velvet Underground’s ‘Over You’ as well as on the band’s own ‘Awhileaway’, the approach seemingly fitting when taking in the group’s unwillingness to engage the audience.

The fact there are two gentlemen in the land of nod in front of me during ‘Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind’ paints a pretty vivid portrait of how some were succumbing to events.

Luckily Schramm is at the forefront once more with his lapsteel ability throughout Ernie Chaffin’s ‘Fellin’ Low’, while ‘Ohm’ and ‘Our Way to Fall’ round out the main set and are definitive highlights of an otherwise at times robotic and underwhelming performance from a band with over thirty years’ experience.

YLT 1They return for a three song encore that starts with The Beat Happening’s ‘Cast a Shadow’, as a reworking of ‘Autumn Sweater’ works a treat, while Kaplan then bids us “a fond farewell” as they perform a “lullaby” in the shape of Johnny Cash’s ‘I Still Miss Someone’.

Now for the fanatical Yo La Tengo follower tonight may well have been all they had wished for and more, and I am in no way wanting to dis an acoustically driven dip into a band’s unpredictable back catalogue, but perhaps they are a band that don’t suit the casual listener in a live environment as tonight was as unengaging and dare I say it uninspiring a show as I’ve been to in quite some time.

Set List Part I: ‘What Can I Say’ (NRBQ cover), ‘The Point Of It’, ‘Rickety’, ‘My Heart’s Not In It’ (Darlene McCrea cover), ‘Automatic Doom’ (The Special Pillow cover), ‘That’s What I’ll Do’ (Leonard Lee cover), ‘The Summer’, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, ‘Friday I’m In Love’ (The Cure cover), ‘The Ballad Of Red Buckets’, ‘Before We Stop To Think’

Set List Part II: ‘Radio Morocco’ (Sun City Girls cover), ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ (Hank Williams cover), ‘I Can Feel the Ice Melting’ (The Parliaments cover), ‘Over You’ (Velvet Underground cover), ‘Butchie’s Tune’ (The Lovin’ Spoonful cover), ‘Awhileaway’, ‘Feelin’ Low’ (Ernie Chaffin cover), ‘Pass the Hatchet I think I’m Goodkind’, ‘Big Day Coming’, ‘Griselda’ (The Holy Modal Rounders cover), ‘Ohm’, ‘Our Way to Fall’

Encore: ‘Cast A Shadow” (The Beat Happening cover), ‘Autumn Sweater’, ‘I Still Miss Someone’ (Johnny Cash cover)

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