Yo La Tengo made a bold decision before they even started their current tour.
Wanting to find a way to showcase the expansive sonic palette displayed on their latest album, Fade, the New Jersey trio decided to eschew opening acts on the road in favor of delivering two sets each night–the first offered seated, and largely acoustic, and the second electrified and noisy.
While the set-up allows Yo La Tengo–Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew–to easily explore all aspects of their three-decade career, it also risks shocking some new fans with the difference between the two halves of the show. Monday at The State Room, anyone who only saw the woozy, narcotic first set, for example, would have no idea that the latter half showcased some arty noise-rock that veered between thrilling and perplexing.
Even so, the show was always entertaining, with the three members trading turns on vocals and the stacks of guitars, keyboards and drums on stage. At this point in their career, Yo La Tengo is seemingly capable of easily creating ballads that are painfully beautiful and pop-rock gems that in a more just world would fill the airwaves of radio stations from coast to coast.
That’s not going to happen, so we’ll have to be happy with seeing Yo La Tengo in concert every few years and listening to their music through our headphones.
Monday, they opened with a sprawling, delicate version of Fade‘s opener, “Ohm,” a song that appears to address the ambiguous morality of our world via lines like, “Sometimes the bad guys come out on top, sometimes the good guys lose.” Kaplan, McNew and Hubley traded lines and gently strummed through before proceeding into the quiet half of the show by leaning heavily on other songs from the new album, including “Two Trains,” “Cornelia and Jane” and the excellent “I’ll Be Around.” Other highlights of the show’s “acoustic” portion were McNew’s “Gentle Hour” and Hubley’s take on old fave “Tom Courtenay.”
After a short break, Yo La Tengo returned to a slightly reconfigured stage and proceeded to provide a deliriously and joyfully noisy excursion into their noisier tendencies. A beefed-up re-imagining of the set opener “Ohm” was a definite highlight, as were takes on “Stockholm Syndrome” and a couple of my personal favorites from the band’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One album: “Little Honda” and “Moby Octopad.” Before the show was over, they had covered an NRBQ tune (perhaps “Magnet;” I’m not positive) and closed with an excellent version of “What Can I Say,” a tune from their 1990 album, Fakebook.
1990 was also, as Kaplan noted, the first time Yo La Tengo toured through Salt Lake City, for a gig at the Speedway Cafe. I missed that show, but I’m older now–and that means I’m smart enough to never miss them again.