Yo La Tengo fans are spoiled rotten. Thirty years into the band's decorated career, Monday night’s First Avenue crowd should have been able to consider themselves lucky if the sixteen dollar ticket price netted an hour and a half worth of music.
For a crowd that wore a noticeable collection of party Xs on both hands, the kids could have understandably expected something akin to seeing Dylan during his "New Morning" phase while hoping to hear “Tombstone Blues.” The Hoboken, N.J., trio has a knack for changing paces tour after tour, and every year leaves one wondering whether they may finally trim the fat from their traditionally robust sets. After two and a half hours of music, it’s feels a bit damning to have ever have doubted them. It’s also a shame more people didn’t get the early-start memo sooner.
The group has been touring on this year’s "Fade" without openers. As was the case Monday night, the group took the stage sans introductions for a muted, nine-song set to a paltry amount of attendees. First Avenue’s website boasted a lineup description into Monday night under the headline “Yo La Tengo with.” So the fact that many showgoers felt comfortable showing up around nine is understandable. All the more reason it never hurts to follow a band's tweets.
Frontman Ira Kaplan led the group into a distilled version of "Fade" opener, “Ohm.” The decision to perform a more gutted take of one of the new record’s more buoyant tracks may have stirred whimpers in some. But after silencing the fuzz, it was hard not to notice the wonderful harmonies that were clouded on record. It also didn’t really matter, because they played it electric later in the night. And they played it frickin' loud.
One of the most fascinating things about watching Yo La Tengo play is how they walk from involvement to introversion. Between songs, Kaplan had no problem quipping away with lines like, “We know you could have been at the ball game with our President, but we’re glad you’re here.” Or how he dropped impressively specific recollections on how they played “Did I Tell You” from the way-back-when New Wave Hot Dogs at the Entry back in '85 (even though Georgia Hubley was quick to recall it was “later than that.”)
And that sort of closeness with the city they’re playing in makes it all more the enjoyable to watch Kaplan get completely lost in soloing across two guitars during a challenging track like “Pass the Hatchet, I think I’m Goodkind.” That main-set closer stretched well past its eleven-minute runtime on record, and Kaplan was deep into his whammy bar and wrecked tunings like a college kid in a practice space.
The group slowly rounded out the evening with a couple of Troggs covers via their Condo Fucks moniker. The Troggs leader passed away Monday, and Kaplan walked away from pounding out “Wild Thing” by saying, “Thank you, Reg Presley.” They left with two quieter covers from Fakebook to assure everyone left completely stuffed.
But the most revealing moment of their double-encore may have came right before “Lewis.” Some diehard had requested the decades-old track during the first set. Before playing it, Kaplan said, “I think we gotta do ‘Lewis.’ We can’t wait until the next time it’s requested.” Talking to Kaplan two weeks ago, it was easy to get the impression that they are still playing as much for themselves as they are the audience. It’s good to know they still haven’t grown bored of their thirty-year-long hobby.
“Did I Tell You”