Mrs. Jaybee liked the Kings Theatre so much back in May at the Sufjan show that she took note of the fact that Yo La Tengo would be playing there in October, and got me tickets for Father’s Day.
Yo La Tengo comprises three rather unassuming people - husband and wife team Ira Kaplan (on guitar and vocals) and Georgia Hubley (drums and vocals) and friend James McNew (bass). I think they live in New Jersey and keep to themselves. Such modesty doesn’t typically bespeak great music, but YLT have been at this for quite a while now.
By the way, the band name comes from a Met outfielder yelling “I got it.” in Spanish. Works for me.
And although I’m a big fan of the two YLT records I already owned - I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One
- one of my very favorite records of the nineties - and Electro-Pura - a loud/quiet juggernaut that I would play more often except that I got it right before 9/11 and it still brings back memories - both records are now about twenty years old. I’m sure at the show they’d get around to playing slightly newer material, so I’d better get up to speed.
Having been around for nearly thirty years, they’ve amassed quite the discography so I wasn’t sure where to continue. I noted that it would be an acoustic show and thought that getting one of their quieter albums would be a good place to go.
And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000)
And quiet it is! Quite a surprise after it’s predecessor, Heart from three years prior, which covered a wide spectrum of sounds from loud and fuzzy to samba to country to folk, with stops at electro-drone along the way,
It was relatively successful, for indie rock, anyway, so you’d think this time around they’d be poised for their next career step by polishing up their sound.
Instead, YLT doubles down on a rumbling, somewhat ominous, but definitely lower decibel sound, only ripping it up in the middle with “Cherry Chapstick”. But in case you think they’re hedging their bets, they finish it all off with the 17 minute quietest-of-all “Hoboken at Night”, that says that they really mean it, man.
No one’s a great singer here, so the vocals tend to be low to the point of mumbling. You’d think this - combined with the overall approach they’re taking here - would wear thin after a while. And it does if you’re not willing to hang in there. But it makes perfect artistic, if not commercial, sense.
I’ll admit that my first listen left me underwhelmed. There didn’t seem to be any “there” there. (Oh wait, that’s Oakland.) One could reasonably conclude it’s a dud, throw it against the wall and move on with one’s life.
Especially in the middle of summer when the windows are open and the music is competing with the sounds of the city (which all too often resembles the sound of assholes).
But once the windows are shut and you get to really hear it, you find that there’s a real song behind each carefully crafted soundscape. Please excuse the critic-speak there. I just have to point out that they’re not coasting here. Each track is powered either by a great drum pattern, soulful harmony or subtle organ part.
My favorite song is “Tears Are In Your Eyes” - a gentle but emotional lending hand held out to a depressed friend. And now that I can really hear it, I find that every song is at the very least worthwhile or way better.
Mostly the latter. And that commitment to tone seems less and less crazy and more and more brave.
Lovely night music, and it would sound great out in the middle of nowhere
In fact, it’s a low-key, but definitely not mellow, tour-de-force. Come on, this unassuming married couple and easy going bass player friend are saying. We dare you to listen.
Oh, but hold the phone! It turns out that YLT has a new record coming out! I better not repeat the mistake I made at the Sufjan show.
I’ll have to check that record out, too!