"Good to see Yo La Tengo are attracting a younger crowd" I thought arriving at the Students' Union building to see the queue of tweenagers waiting to get into tonight's sold out show. Then I realised they were here to see 3Oh!3 (me neither). Once inside it was much more the audience demographic I expected - and not simply a group of record store clerks as suggested mischievously by The Onion. The crowd was largely quiet and - surprisingly - reserved during the concert except for the frequent cries for 'Freebird' (will this never go away??).
Recent Yo La Tengo records, including new album "Popular Songs", tend to have roughly three types of song: the quiet and tender, the loud and fast, or the longer, ten-minute-plus, starting-quieter-ending-louder, largely instrumental jams. And tonight all three were well represented. Given the trio - Ira Kaplan guitars/keyboards, Georgia Hubley drums and James McNew bass - have been in existence since 1984 there were always going to be omissions from tonight's 1 hour and 40 minute set which I'll try not to get hung up about (but no 'Blue Line Swinger'! No 'Autumn Sweater'!).
The sound in Academy 2 was great tonight especially considering this was just a three piece band delivering it. But they had come prepared - they had a LOT of kit with them. I think I counted at least four different keyboards dotted across the stage and there was a guitar roadie on stage throughout constantly preparing and tuning a bank of guitars to hand to Ira. Only for Ira to instantly de-tune it and then give it a proper thrashing. When playing Ira contorts his body as much as the guitar, often lifting his right arm high up at shoulder to plunge it across the strings. Great to watch as ever - but surprised he hasn't got some joint problems.
New songs came across well, even ones I hadn't really paid attention to like 'Avalon or Someone Very Similar' and 'When It's Dark'. Highlights for me: an acoustic version of 'Black Flowers' with the three band members at the front of the stage - James singing and playing acoustic guitar, Georgia on percussion and Ira with electric guitar - which was hauntingly lovely. And set closer 'Pass The Hatchet, I Am Goodkind' was magnificently dark and twisted.
The large cloth backdrop for tonight was of scattered buttons, all different sizes, textures and colours. At first this was quite calming and reassuringly twee; but towards the end as they plunged into a some of the louder, fuzzier songs ('Sugarcube', 'Tom Courtenay', 'Nowhere To Hide') and as the lights starting to swirl, it became more psychedelic and even menacing. The trio of encores included a tribute to Manchester in a cover of Dylan's 'I Wanna Be Your Lover' with Euros Childs joining the band: "we couldn't think of any Manchester bands... then remembered "Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall" was recorded here". All in all, a great evening of quality music from one of America's finest. Despite those omissions.
Support was from Euros Childs touring his new album "Son of Euro Child". It was a short thirty minute, nine song set but with plenty to enjoy. His solo work smoothes out some of the psychedelic quirkiness of early Gorky's but still has a weird humour and casual charm all of its own. He is endearingly nervous at being booted off the stage and also tells some tall tales: he claims 'When I First Saw You' was co-written with Ian McShane "whilst I was house-sitting for him in the South of France". 'Outside My Window' featured guitar played through the smallest amp in the world ("watch out for the reverb") which he bought because he wanted something easy to carry not being able to drive. It sounded astonishing. A national treasure.
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Yo La Tengo
Popular Songs [BUY]
Yo La Tengo
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Son of Euro Child [BUY]