Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yo La Tengo - Do They Have It?

Last night, I ventured to The Bell House, a bar and concert venue in the still-slightly-too-industrial Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus, to see a sold-out Yo La Tengo show. According to lead singer, Ira Kaplan, Yo La Tengo played their first show in 1984 with the band, Antietam, who opened for them last night. Twenty-six years later, they were back together playing to a packed crowd at The Bell House.

Current YLT Members James McNew On Drums, Ira Kaplan
and Georgia Hubley on Synthesizer and Keyboard
"Yo La Tengo" is Spanish for "I Have It." (To see a video about how the band got their name, click here). So, does YLT have "it"? While I was not blown away by their show, I was certainly able to lose myself in their music for a couple of hours. (I should also mention that I only recently became acquainted with the majority of their music, which may have colored my judgment).

Having spent the evening climbing at nearby Brooklyn Boulders (look out for a future post on indoor climbing in the NYC-metro area...), I arrived late and missed the opening act, Antietam. However, I was just in time to catch Yo La Tengo bringing an audience member up on stage to spin a wheel which would help them decide which of the songs in their 200+ repertoire they would play.

The multi-talented band members, Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew, could all play a wide range of instruments, swapping between electric and acoustic lead and bass guitars, drums, keyboard, synthesizer, and vocals. Some songs were soft and mellow, like a lullaby, while others aimed to challenge the loudest heavy metal bands around, complete with twenty-minute-long guitar solos (including distortion, of course).

James McNew on Bass Guitar, Ira Kaplan on Lead Guitar,
Georgia Hubley on Keyboard
My impression of this band was that if Thom Yorke, Rogue Wave, The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky, and a few heavy metal bands got together for an orgy of music, beginning with some smooth wine-like sounds but unable to resist the cacophonies of mixing harder liquors, this is what it would sound like. (Granted, YLT is older than most of these bands, and I also don't know enough hard rock bands to pinpoint any names, but you get the picture).

Despite playing two consecutive sold-out shows at The Bell House (second show is tonight, 5/11, at 8pm, with The Baxx Sisi's), I was disappointed by last night's lackluster audience. As I glanced around the venue, other than myself and maybe three others, I hardly detected even a head bop. Nevertheless, although I was not compelled to remain for the encore(s), as I made my early exit I did have to push my way through a crowd of cheering fans begging for more music.

Will I see YLT again live? I am not sure, but my interest has been piqued enough to continue exploring their many albums. Fan, John H., noted that YLT is "noise rock done right, what 90's rock was supposed to be but so seldom achieved."

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