If there are three cooler people than Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew, I’d like to meet them. How cool are those three? Cool enough to overcome a seemingly massive deficit of coolness.
But oh my good god do they bring it on stage. Their October 23 show at Hentry Fonda Theater was the second time I’d seen them live, and only Stereolab comes to mind as a band even in the same neighborhood when it comes to tightness, perfectionism, and every note locking squarely into place.
The opening band was Why? Their scruffy, xylophone-laced slack rock wasn’t nearly as interesting as pondering a Laurel and Hardy-esque skit playing off their name:
“Because I want to know.”
“Forget the name. When do they go on?”
“It’s not they, it’s Why?”
“No, not what. Why?”
Yo La Tengo hit the stage with a trifecta of awesomeness. Hubley’s clattering on the drums and Kaplan’s tinkling on the keyboards (on which he spent almost as most time throughout the night as he did on guitar) eventually took the shape of “Autumn Sweater.” From there they revved into “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” currently giving Built to Spill’s “Goin’ Against Your Mind” a run for its money for the title of Epic Indie Rock Jam of the Year. Then Yo La Tengo showed a mastery of the sudden dynamic change by bringing things way down into the hushed beauty of “Our Way to Fall.” The moment had even the hipsterest of L.A. hipsters awed, telling those who dared to keep gabbing to shut up.
The rest of the evening similarly grabbed from different bags of sound that the musicians are masters of. There was the bouncy pop of “Beanbag Chair,” which again had me thinking of Stereolab. And there was more extended noise-rock exploration on “The Story of Yo La Tengo.” Kaplan might look nerdy and nebbishy, but he will absolutely go at his axe, flailing it toward amps for maximum feedback and playing it with his teeth.
In typical fashion, the band came out for three encores. The first consisted solely of covers of songs by artists including Bob Dylan and Alex Chilton. The highlight of the second was a very percussive reworking of “You Can Have it All,” with Kaplan and McNew both brushing snares and Hubley adding maracas to her warm, rich vocals. And the nightcap was a cover of the Cosmic Rays’ “Somebody’s in Love” done with plenty of gorgeous three-part harmony.
If there truly is a holy trinity, I’m banking on it being Yo La Tengo. And if creationism is correct, then that godhead built a perfect little musical world for a couple of hours that October night.
“Beanbag Chair” MP3