LIVES

The epic ad­ven­tures of New Jer­sey’s most en­dur­ing cult band. Watch out for weaponised mara­cas!

Mojo (UK) - - Contents - By John Mul­vey.

Yo La Tengo bring the noise to Dublin and Leon Bridges gets soul­ful in Lon­don town.

How do you find your way from one song to the next? For Yo La Tengo, nav­i­gat­ing a path through their vast reper­toire ev­ery night, the chal­lenge in­volves mem­ory, cre­ativ­ity, ag­ile work­ing prac­tices and a nim­ble step. There is a pro­fu­sion of gear that the multi-task­ing trio must dodge on the Olympia stage, a maze of vin­tage key­boards, gui­tars, drum machines, drum kits (two), dou­ble bass (one) and iPod, that recre­ates the metic­u­lous chaos of their Hobo­ken re­hearsal space. Pas­sage be­tween work­sta­tions, mid-song, can be haz­ardous, given how the car­pet is a mine­field of ef­fects ped­als, shak­ers and bells. The air, too, con­tains ob­sta­cles, with painted vinyl discs and CDs dan­gling from the gantry; a neat man­i­fes­ta­tion of Yo La Tengo’s sta­tus as the beloved band of record nerds non­pareil. Later, Ira Kaplan will com­mit the ul­ti­mate of­fence, when he smashes a 7-inch, hang­ing just above the or­gan, with an in­ad­ver­tently weaponised maraca. First, though, there is a lot to get through. Ear­lier this year, YLT played a run of US dates, dur­ing which they show­cased the im­mer­sive tex­tures of their new al­bum, There’s A Riot Go­ing On, along with an un­canny mas­tery of their pre­vi­ous 14 al­bums, and a knack for find­ing an un­likely cover ver­sion or three for ev­ery oc­ca­sion. One hun­dred and twenty-two dif­fer­ent songs were es­sayed across 15 gigs. “It seems now there’s more RAM, like we’re ac­cru­ing lots of mem­ory,” says James Mc­New, af­ter the first Eu­ro­pean show’s sound­check. “You’re sup­posed to start for­get­ting things as you grow older, but it seems we’re re­mem­ber­ing more.” Mc­New, 48, is the new guy. He joined in 1991, seven years af­ter Kaplan, 61, and Ge­or­gia Hub­ley, 58, had founded the band. Their en­durance piv­ots on be­ing the quin­tes­sen­tial in­die rock­ers – “37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead In Yo La Tengo Con­cert Dis­as­ter”, read a no­to­ri­ous Onion head­line – who rarely sound or be­have like any­thing so straight­for­ward. “Cer­tain bands of our age play their new al­bum and the same eight old songs, and then the next tour one of those eight falls by the wayside and they do the same seven,” says Kaplan. “To not be like that is a con­scious de­ci­sion.” A typ­i­cal Yo La Tengo show in 2018, then, is a study in ex­tremes: hushed pre­ci­sion and ca­cophonous aban­don. It be­gins with tam­bourines, some freeform rus­tle and an arc of feed­back. This is You Are Here, the first track on the new al­bum and a use­ful mis­sion state­ment for the quasi­ambi­ent space that YLT cur­rently oc­cupy in the stu­dio. As the song pro­gresses, though,

“KAPLAN WRES­TLES HIS GUI­TAR ABOVE HIS HEAD, TURNED UP SO LOUD THE FEED­BACK BE­COMES VIS­CERAL.”

the ethe­real be­comes more sub­stan­tive, Kaplan shap­ing a gui­tar line rem­i­nis­cent of solo Michael Rother. In an open­ing set which also fea­tures lu­nar doo wop (For­ever), beat­nik folk-pop (One PM Again) and some gor­geous Vel­vetsy minia­tures (The Hour Grows Late and I Feel Like Go­ing Home), the min­i­mal­ist peak comes with Ashes, a serene mix of drone rock and ex­ot­ica. While Hub­ley sings, Kaplan takes three con­sid­ered trips from his or­gan to the un­oc­cu­pied drum kit, where he ap­plies a sin­gle brush­stroke to a cym­bal and re­turns to base. In the in­ter­stices, there is the grip­ping spec­ta­cle of a band im­pro­vis­ing new routes from one dis­parate song to an­other. If the first half mood suits the grand in­ti­macy of this old the­atre, the bel­liger­ence that punc­tu­ates the sec­ond set is both shock­ing and brac­ing. Dream Dream Away’s am­ni­otic strum is a red her­ring. Now, Kaplan’s self-ef­face­ment is re­placed by an older per­sona – that of noise-rock maven, wrestling his gui­tar above his head and into his guts, turned up so loud the tra­jec­to­ries of feed­back be­come vis­ceral. Not ev­ery­thing to­tally suc­ceeds; the clank un­der­min­ing Hub­ley’s fil­i­gree Shades Of Blue may be an ex­per­i­ment too far. But mostly, from a de­ranged take on 1995’s Fly­ing Les­son (Hot Chicken #1) to the mel­liflu­ous squalls of I Heard You Look­ing, the set reasserts YLT’s most po­tent se­cret. Hid­ing be­hind as­sump­tions of in­die twee­ness, Kaplan is ac­tu­ally one of the most fu­ri­ously in­ven­tive gui­tar he­roes of his gen­er­a­tion. That he chooses to de­ploy his vir­tu­os­ity with such mea­sure is a key part of what makes his band so spe­cial. They are rock schol­ars – Al­ter­na­tive TV and Gene Clark cov­ers are con­jured up for the en­core – whose knowl­edge in­forms, but never over­whelms a highly per­son­alised sound­world. “We have no plan on how to get from one song to the next,” Mc­New ad­mits just be­fore cur­tain. “We know where we’re go­ing, we just don’t know how we’re go­ing to get there.” But per­haps Yo La Tengo have found a way to make their on­go­ing jour­ney, and all the pos­si­bil­i­ties it throws up, more im­por­tant than where it might fi­nally take them.

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