Despite Ira Kaplan's apologetic comment that the show had not exactly been "rocktastic," Yo la tengo sounded great to me last Wednesday. The show featured mostly songs from their most recent album, Summer Sun, which like its predecessor, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, is certainly in a quieter vein than some previous Yo la albums. And the assigned-seating theater-style venue helped contribute to the feeling that one was at some avant-garde jazz-fusion event rather than a Rock and Roll show. But just when I would start feeling antsy at the electronica-inspired atmospherics, they would switch gears, Ira would lay down some skronk on his guitar, and they were a rock act again. One of the things that occurred to me during the show was how wide-ranging YLT have been stylistically, and how effortlessly they move between styles. It got me thinking that style can be a kind of trap. Perhaps an idea for a future post.
Highlights of the show? "Georgia vs. Yo la Tengo," with Georgia Hubley doing all sorts of scratchy sounding electronic stuff over James and Ira's piano/bass line was pretty funkadelic (moreso than the recorded version). The set-ending version of Sun-Ra's "Nuclear War" (with help from openers The Aisler Set) was anthemic -- the song, disturbingly, seems more relevant every day. But for purely personal reasons, my favorite songs came during the encore, when they performed "Emulsified" and, in response to my own dear wife's shouted request, "Griselda," both from their 1992 album Fakebook. Each of these is the kind of old, weird, atypical song that for some reason you develop an attachment to and always wish a band would play live but know they never will (Fakebook consists more or less entirely of these). For them to play one was a pleasant surprise. To play a second was a real treat.
Also at the show, I finally legalized my ownership of Summer Sun, putting down $14 for a sanctioned copy of the CD after listening to a digital copy all summer. This is probably not the time to wade into the quagmire that surrounds the issue of digitally copying copyrighted music. I'm no fan of the RIAA and their current jihad against file-sharers, but when it comes to indie-labels and bands like Yo la tengo, I do try to put my money where my ears are. And it is especially nice to hand your $14 to the musicians themselves (well, at this show they had flunkies manning the table, but I have put money into Ira's hand before) instead throwing it onto the pile at your local chain store.