Review/Photos: Yo La Tengo at Antone's in Austin, TX; 01.29.2010

words and photos by Andy Pareti

please scroll down for photo gallery


The first time I saw Yo La Tengo – at San Francisco’s Treasure Island Festival – their waves of feedback-infused noise rock echoed through a decidedly uninterested crowd.  The band’s melodies were wrapped tightly in a blanket of electronic fuzz towards the end of a very long day of music, and Wayne Coyne was orchestrating a soundcheck at the other stage about fifty yards away.  It was not the most ideal of circumstances.

Before Friday night at Antone’s, I was unfairly skeptical in my expectations from the band a second time around.  Their songs were well-executed the first time around, but they seemed slightly disconnected, somewhat disinterested.  But under the dark red lights at 6th Street’s oldest club, Ira Kaplan and his band changed all that, putting together a performance that will undoubtedly be the show to beat this year.

The band did everything right in so many ways.  The set list was well-balanced and textured, the performances emotive, the guitars squealing.  Those guitars…Kaplan seems to have an out-of-body experience when he solos.  Lurching over his colorful, blinking control panel of distortion pedals like a mad scientist, he writhes on the ground, twists and spasms, swings his instrument like a tomahawk and more or less squeezes the thing dry of every last sound, every dying breath.

Behind him, James McNew floats in the shadows like a specter, driving along the deafening bass, and Georgia Hubley bangs the drums.  Of course, the set-up regularly shifts, with the three constantly playing musical chairs between bass, drums, guitars, and keyboards.  Each different outfit produces a different sound, and each sound executed perfectly.

Yo La Tengo’s set focused heavily on Popular Songs, their recent 2009 album, and thank god for that.  From the stripped down “Here to Fall” to the infectious, Temptations-inspired take on “If It’s True”, to the sexy, slinky “Periodically Double or Triple”, the band made a statement about this album on Friday night – a statement that establishes the genius of these songs.

Dissatisfied to settle there, Tengo also included some fantastic versions of old classics, including “Autumn Sweater”, “Last Days of Disco”, and “Mr. Tough”.  There was a very deliberate progression to the set, which seemed to open with the guitar-heavy rockers, then morph into a bouncy, synth-heavy rhythm and blues series, and finally culminate in a series of acoustic numbers.  The band returned for an encore that included the Bob Dylan cover, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”.

This performance by Yo La Tengo hit me like a blunt instrument with its intensity.  It was loud, assertive, and completely unexpected based on my previous expectations.  It was a demonstration by a veteran band on top of their game, and without a doubt, will be a show to remember when looking back at the best of the year in live Austin music.

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