Yo La Tengo, Titus Andronicus: Show Review (McCarren Park Pool, Brooklyn, New York)

    Some people were sad to see McCarren Park Pool go as a viable venue for free summer music. In my mind, it could just as easily be burned down as it could be used for its proper purpose again. From the very moment I began to wait in line until I hopped on the L train to head home, I was trying to place the event and venue in historical perspective. Was the McCarren Pool something of a hipster Woodstock? Or was it closer to the Warped Tour’s evil twin, less obviously but just as depressingly homogenized?

    If you were to film merely the line of individuals waiting to see Yo La Tengo and Titus Andronicus Sunday afternoon, parodies of the modern hipster superstructure without a base subject even to parody (how’s that for ya, postmodernism!), you could save the footage for 50 years until it would belong in a museum exhibit on how youth of the early 21st century gave political awareness a pass for a generation. Their idea of caring was signing an Obama petition while drinking Bud Light and having fun on a slip n’ slide. The abundance of merchandise sales, shit-eating grins and excessively large sunglasses was enough to make a weaker man go catatonic. And that was even before the music started.

    Opening act Ebony Bones was perhaps a microcosm of the problems of the music scene this decade: a band that substitutes image and intensity for substance. Don’t let the tropical clothing fool you—this is a hipster band covering the exact same territory that the Talking Heads covered a quarter century ago. The dirty secret of Ebony Bones’ music is that it still depends on a standard guitar/bass/drums formula, and on a handful of later songs such as “We Know All About U” and “I’m Ur Future Ex-Wife,” Bones lets some muscle squeak by her bombast. If only she had an image that allowed such a notion. Bones also raises the question of how many more of these M.I.A./Santogold knockoffs we’ll be seeing in the future.

    In between these sets, I decided to walk around the pool area to get one last look of the atmosphere before it got too crowded to move. Right as I was about to get upset over the image of grown men playing dodgeball and four square, I found a much better image for my fury. One passerby had a brown shirt of a vampiric Obama with the slogan “Count Barackula.” (For the record, I was wearing my Hüsker Dü shirt hoping for a comment that never came.) In an event that was theoretically supposed to be in support of Obama, it was nice to see the man who the crowd theoretically wanted to be the next leader of the free world turned into a children’s cartoon cereal promoter.

    Of course, that shirt was far from the only artifact of the ironic generation to be found at the last free McCarren pool concert (or any McCarren pool  concert, for that matter). As Titus Andronicus opened their set, I saw someone break out a copy of Thomas Kuhn, which is good for a light summer reading of a classic easily distortable to postmodern whim. As distortion and feedback glared, a young woman next to me must have been the first person in recorded history to perform Sun Salutations during a Titus Andronicus performance. Seeing as how attractive she was, however, I wasn’t about to go on my spiel about the downfall of Western civilization being centered in northern Brooklyn.

    On one level, it would seem Titus Andronicus’ breed of nihilistic shit-town booze punk wouldn’t mesh with a venue better suited for good-time summer vibes. True, the intensity and fury was diluted somewhat, but their performance was still as intense and antagonistic as one could hope for from the band in such a situation. Whenever a beach ball was flung on stage, Patrick Stickles did the proper thing and either kicked it violently, mutilated it with a pair of scissors, or ignored it. In one inspired moment, he violently clipped off his beard in a manner that made you worry he’d stab himself in the jugular. It was as good an indication as any that summer’s coming to a close.

    Yo La Tengo took the stage after a lengthy delay, and started off with some of the lighter stuff off of Summer Sun and I Am Not Afraid of You And Will Beat Your Ass, finishing that segment with a ridiculous sequence of squall on “Pass the Hatchet.” Ira Kaplan and Yo La Tengo have a silly side that often gets ignored, and it was on fully display for a good 15-20 minutes to open the set. While Yo La Tengo would eventually rock out as much as ever, the crowd generally preferred the softer material. Visible frowns and grimaces emerged whenever Kaplan tapped the distortion pedal for an extended period of time. Dedicating “Bad Politics” to Obama was an inspired touch. Toward the end of the set, during a particularly brilliant extended version of “Blue Line Swinger,” the first wave of hipsters began to head to the exit. Which was funny, because I always thought “Blue Line Swinger” was the most worthy candidate for Definitive Yo La Tengo Song status. I guess the popular pick for that title would be “Autumn Sweater,” which was the double encore selection.

    In between, we got Yo La Tengo inviting Titus Andronicus on stage for a cover of the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare.” It was a moment of pure genius, until you realized the bands had meant it as a call to the Billysburgers to move to Jersey. Call me crazy, but I prefer my unexpected Misfits covers to equate to more than shill pieces for white flight.

    The concert was a capstone to an era of youth culture in American history that in our graying years we’d probably like to forget. That is if they can remember anything about Brooklyn circa 2008 while submerged in a pool of water that used to be their home. Yes, I have turned the McCarren venue eventually becoming filled with water into a metaphor for global warming, and by extension, apathy in Generation Y. That’s all the elegy I have in me.


    Photo Credit: Chris La Putt/Prefixmag.com